Will Intel Get Its Groove Back with Woodcrest?

Updated: Dell, HP and IBM are among the systems makers arming servers with Intel's new energy-efficient processor.

Server makers are lining up a host of new and enhanced systems armed with Intels new "Woodcrest" Xeon processor, a chip built on a new architecture that promises better performance coupled with greater energy efficiency.

Intel initially said the Xeon 5100 family—based on Intels new Core microarchitecture—would be released in the third quarter. However, earlier this month the giant chip maker pushed up the date to June 26 in an attempt to take back momentum from rival Advanced Micro Devices, which has gained market share over the past couple of years based on the strength of the performance-per-watt capabilities of its Opteron processors.

At the lauch event for the chips in New York on June 26, Pag Gelsinger, senior vice president and general manager of Intels Digital Enterprise Group, said Woodcrest will now dominate the market in terms of both performance and power efficiency.

"Every aspect is leading," Gelsinger said. "Not just little bit ahead, way ahead. There is no gap for question. ... This chip just rocks. Fabulous as far its capabilities and its performance. Its a good year for Intel when we have a new process. Its a good year for Intel when we have a new micro-architecture. It;s a good year for Intel when we have a new platform. This year we have all three."

Beyond its capabilities, the platforms stability and reliability are key, Gelsinger said, particularly as Intel gears up for quad-core chips next year and the eventual move to 45-nanometer manufacturing processes.

"Its not just about a fabulous CPU, but all things built into the platform that make it a compelling solution to the end user," he said. "The Bensley platform is a platform with longevity. ... If platform upgrade needs bandwidth in the bus, we have bandwidth to burn."

Intel expects the platform to satisfy the next four generations of chips, probably about three years into the future, said Steve Dallman, Intels director of American distribution and channel sales and marketing.

Various OEMs say the Xeon 5100 chips put Intel solidly back in the game. Officials with Dell say the new chips will help its PowerEdge servers improve performance by up to 152 percent while lowering power consumption by as much as 25 percent.

Dell, of Round Rock, Texas, is one of a number of OEMs rolling out new or upgraded servers with the Woodcrest chips. Dell is looking to the processors as a key part of the server makers aggressive push to become the leader in the price-performance-per-watts category in the second half of the year, according to Jay Parker, director of worldwide marketing for the PowerEdge server line.

Earlier this month, Dell rolled out three new PowerEdge systems and introduced its new 1955 blade server armed first with the dual-core "Dempsey" Xeon chip, which is based on the older architecture, and now with Woodcrest.

Dell on June 26 joined other systems makers, from Hewlett-Packard and IBM to Gateway, Rackable Systems and SGI, in rolling out servers with the new chip line.

Intel is delivering the first of three new dual-core processors it aims to use to win back bragging rights and market share. The Santa Clara, Calif., chip maker will offer a range of Xeons, including 2GHz, 2.33GHz and 2.66GHz models (5130, 5140 and 5150, respectively), which consume about 65 watts of power. Its 3GHz Xeon DP5160 chip will use about 80 watts, Intel officials have said. Its previous generation of chips, the Xeon DP 5000 series, use 95 watts to 130 watts, and AMDs Opteron is in the 95-watt range.

The arrival of the Xeon 5100 series, which Intel says offers far more computing power for each watt of energy consumed, comes at a time when concern about server energy consumption and the rising cost of electricity is growing among senior IT managers. But aside from signaling a new focus on energy efficiency, the new chips also show a more competitive Intel, executives have said.

Woodcrest is "showing tremendous performance, even exceeding our own engineering goals," Kirk Skaugen, vice president of the Digital Enterprise Group and co-GM of Intels Server Platforms Group, said during an analyst briefing June 6.

Gordon Haff, an analyst with Illuminata, said Woodcrest makes Intel competitive once again in the volume server space. How that plays out as Intel and AMD move forward with quad-core chips is unclear, but for now, Intel has made a good step forward, said Haff, in Nashua, N.H.

"Its a pretty significant advance forward for Intel," he said. "Theyve been trailing AMD in terms of performance, and Woodcrest does put them back on the same playing field."

The release of Woodcrest gives Intel a dual play in the server platform play—best of breed and best in price, Gelsinger said.

"The real power of Dempsey [a dual-core Xeon chip that started shipping in the first quarter], now that Woodcrest lineup is here, is it allows me to take Dempsey as the price performance leader," he said. "I now have a street fighter in that market. I have more price leveragability."

Intels Xeon server chips have lagged Opteron in power and performance and, as a result, Intel has lost share in the server chip segment of the market. Opteron claimed just over 22 percent of the server x86 processor market in the first quarter of 2006, up from 16.5 percent in the fourth quarter of 2005. AMD also held the line on its overall share during the first quarter, after gaining almost four points against Intel during the fourth quarter of 2005, according to Mercury Research figures.

/zimages/4/28571.gifClick here to read more about what Intel is doing to rebound after its recent lackluster performances.

With the majority of the Xeon DP 5100 line arriving at 65 watts, the chips will use less power than originally estimated. But Intel cautioned IT managers from basing their buying decisions solely on chip power consumption numbers. Skaugen encouraged IT managers to instead look at the total amount of power a given machine draws from an electrical socket.

This watts-at-the-wall measurement, he said, is more accurate than adding up chip specs as it reflects a servers behavior as it would act under different loads, Skaugen said.

Next Page: Analysts agree.