Intel Corp. will mark July 2005 as its entry into the dual-core processor server age.
Later this month, the chip maker will begin rolling out the first of four new dual-core server platforms for machines ranging from inexpensive, single-processor boxes for small businesses to multiprocessor Xeon servers and high-end Itanium machines for large businesses.
Based on its new chips capabilities, Intel expects to see a relatively quick transition from single-core processors to dual-core processors in servers using its chips.
The dual-core chips, which contain two-processor cores versus the one present in a single-core chip, offer businesses a significant performance boost for what are likely to be relatively small increases in price.
Intel, which shifted its focus to dual-core chips from high-speed, single-core chips last year, says 15 dual-core or multi-core processor projects are either on the market now or in the works.
“This isnt something were viewing as a one-time, single-product introduction,” said Phil Brace, general manager of server and workstation marketing for Intels Server Platforms Group.
“Its the start of a big change in the industry. Were going to use our scale—multiple product over multiple segments—to move the industry. Youre going to see a multitude of multi-core products coming out within the next year and beyond.”
The first of the four dual-core platforms will pair the Pentium D with a new chip set, dubbed “Mukilteo,” to create single-processor, dual-core servers for small and midsize businesses, Brace said.
Brace declined to say when the machines would appear. However, sources familiar with Intels plans say they will come out July 11.
Following the introduction of Mukilteo servers, Intel will begin rolling out dual-core Xeon DP and Xeon MP processors, code-named Dempsey and Paxville, respectively.
Its Xeon DP chip line was designed for dual-processor systems, while its Xeon MP is aimed at servers with four or more processors.
Dempsey will be part of Bensley, a server platform Intel has said will pair features such as virtualization with a speedier front side bus, PCI-Express for add-in boards, RAID (redundant array of independent disks) along with its I/O Acceleration Technology and Active Management Technology for speeding up input/output and managing hardware. The Paxville chip will have a similar platform.
Intel aims to seed thousands of servers based on the two platforms into businesses and software developers as part of an extended testing period.
The program, which is expected to get under way within two to three months, will allow businesses to test drive the dual-core processor Xeon platforms during the second half of 2005.
Servers based on them wont officially go on sale until 2006. But by that time, Intel figures businesses will be ready to deploy them and software developers will have had time to test and tune their wares as well.
“We do expect to start some pretty aggressive seeding campaigns and are going to get those [Paxville and Dempsey servers] into the hands of users a lot sooner than I think many expected,” Brace said. “We have a broad seeding program that will work with some of our top end customers and ISVs.”
Server maker Dell Inc. says its looking forward to offering dual-core processors and virtualization-capable servers.
The two additions, it said recently, boost the capabilities of x86 processor servers for businesses, making them better for server consolidation duties or as replacements for more expensive Unix machines.
Still, server makers dont typically transition to new hardware technology as quickly as desktop PCs or notebooks because their server models are both more critical to business operations, said Dean McCarron, principal analyst at Mercury Research in Cave Creek Ariz.
As technology transitions go, “Its a safe assessment that dual-core will be deployed very broadly and very swiftly in the server market,” he said. However, “Its just going to take time for the OEMs to go through their normal product transitions.”
Like Intels Pentium D, the new Xeon chips might not necessarily be faster than their predecessors. However, theyre still likely to provide a performance boost from the addition of an extra processor core.
“Performance increases will vary,” McCarron said. “The benefit is basically zero to 80 [percent] depending on what youre doing. But its reasonable to assume there will be a performance benefit thats well into the double-digits on average.”
Virtualization technology offers a potential increase in usability as well. The technology, which divides a machine up into partitions that can each run a different operating system and set of applications, is available through software now.
However, starting with Montecito, Intels first dual-core Itanium 2 chip and the fourth new platform, most Intel server chips will come with built-in virtualization capabilities.
Montecito, which promises a whopping 24MB of Level 3 cache, will hit the market late this year.
The technology, Brace indicated, is a key element of Intels forthcoming server platforms, including the two new Xeon chips.
“Youre going to see us make an aggressive, broad push around virtualization,” Brace said. “Virtualization is a significant capability. Its about security, reliability and setting up new modes of operating.”
Intel isnt the only chip maker building dual-cores x86 processors however.
Advanced Micro Devices Inc., Intels arch rival, is already shipping dual-core Opteron chips.
Hewlett-Packard Co., IBM and Sun Microsystems Inc. offer servers with the Opteron chips, now. HP and IBM are also likely to offer the dual-core Xeons as well.
AMD will update Opteron with built-in virtualization, a technology it calls Pacifica, next year.
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