Intel Unleashes Speedy Xeon, Server Chip Set

At its Intel Developers Conference, Intel will unveil faster Xeon chips and a server chip set that it hopes will help it reclaim customers lost due to a bad bet on an unpopular memory solution.

Intel Corp. Monday will release faster Xeon processors incorporating a new technology, as well as a server chip set aimed at helping the company reclaim customers it lost due to a bad bet on an unpopular memory solution.

The announcements are among a series of product launches expected this week during the chip makers four-day Intel Developers Forum in San Francisco.

The new Xeons, known by the code name Prestonia, will be offered at 2.2GHz for $615, 2GHz for $417 and 1.8GHz for $251. (Prices are based on 1,000-unit shipments.)

The Xeons, based on the Pentium 4 architecture, are also the first to incorporate a performance-enhancing technology called hyperthreading. The new feature essentially enables a single Xeon to act like virtual dual processors. When used in conjunction with software designed for multi-CPU systems, hyperthreading can provide up to a 40 percent boost in performance compared with a same-speed Xeon with hyperthreading disabled, Intel officials said.

In addition, the chips feature several enhancements over earlier Pentium III Xeons, including twice as much Level 2 cache (512KB of on-die memory) and a faster, 400MHz front-side bus.

Just as noteworthy, Intel will release Monday its E7500 Xeon-based chip set, code named Plumas, for dual-processor servers. It is Intels first release of a dual-processor chip set for servers since 2000 and marks the companys effort to reclaim market share it lost by gambling on a new memory technology.

In 1999, Intel made a controversial decision to design its server chip sets to use a newly emerging memory technology known as RDRAM (Rambus dynamic RAM).

But enterprise customers and computer makers balked at using RDRAM chip sets and instead turned to a relative upstart company called ServerWorks for SDRAM (synchronous DRAM)-enabled chip sets. In 2000, ServerWorks became the leading provider of Intel-based server chip sets, a position of dominance it maintains today.

"Basically Intel was busy working on Rambus-oriented chip sets that nobody wanted," said industry analyst Nathan Brookwood of Insight 64 in Saratoga, Calif. "ServerWorks made a bet on PC100 memory and PC133 [SDRAM], and it turned out to be the right technical strategy."

Although Intels new E7500 offers impressive features, including dual-channel double-data-rate SDRAM, 3.2GB-per-second bandwidth and support for 64-bit PCI/PCI-X, the company will face an uphill challenge to get computer makers to design systems based on the chip set, Brookwood said.

"All the OEMs are geared up to support products with ServerWorks chip sets, and their tech people understand the idiosyncrasies of ServersWorks products," he said. "Several of the top guys, like IBM and HP, will have some sort of offering based on the E7500, but I expect their mainstream entry-level servers are going to remain to be based on ServerWorks chip sets."

The E7500 will cost from $92 to $132, depending on various configurations, in 1,000-unit shipments.

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