After years of rumors and months of promise, Intel Corp. on Monday rolled out its first x86 chip with 64-bit extensions, officially launching the next-generation dual-processor Xeon chip, code-named Nocona.
Intel will roll out its EM64T (Extended Memory 64 Technology), featured in the Nocona processor, gradually over the course of the year. The first chip set supporting the technology–the e7525, code-named Tumwater–is currently shipping, but Intel will only be able to deliver a multiprocessor Xeon capable of 64-bit processing by the end of the year, Intel executives said.
Intels decision to compete head-to-head with rival Advanced Micro Devices Inc. by bringing 64-bit capabilities into its Xeon processors should result in a greater number of hardware and software options for enterprises looking for a gradual transition from 32-bit to 64-bit computing. However, OS support for Intels new technology will also lag, and one analyst said that 64-bit drivers will not be immediately available for all legacy hardware.
The new Nocona chips, available at speeds between 2.8GHz and 3.6GHz, will first appear in workstations such as Hewlett-Packard Co.s dual-processor xw6200 and xw8200, due this week, and later this summer will find their way into servers. Intels Nocona will be shipped in products from at least 10 manufacturers at launch, according to Abhi Talwalkar, vice president and general manager of the enterprise platforms group at Santa Clara, Calif.-based Intel. Talwalkar introduced the processor in a conference with reporters Monday morning.
The Nocona/Tumwater platform also offers performance enhancements such as DDR2 memory support and PCI Express. Intel executives said that the new processor delivers between 8 percent and 30 percent more performance on selected benchmarks than a 32-bit processor lacking the EM64T technology.
In August, Intel will ship a version of the Nocona for dual-processor servers, single-processor servers, and single-processor workstations—the first use of EM64T technology under the Pentium name, said Richard Dracott, group director for the Enterprise Platforms Group at Intel in Hillsboro, Ore. The next wave of processors will be shipped at the end of 2004, when Intel will ship a 64-bit-capable Xeon MP for four-way servers.
“We see typically that most customers migrate over to using new processors very quickly,” Dracott said in an interview. “The Xeon MP will move slower. The MP market is more conservative, and takes longer for new deployments as well.”
By the end of the year, the “vast majority” of workstations and low-end servers will be 64-bit capable, Talwalkar added.
Dracott said he does not feel that Intel is following AMD into the market, even though AMD started shipping its Opteron server chips last year. AMDs Opteron uses an integrated memory controller, which AMD has said improves the overall performance of the part. Intels “segregated” chip sets will allow for different combinations of price and performance, such as the ability to use cheaper DDR1 memory.
“I think were pursuing a different direction, taking a different step to overall performance,” he said.
AMD executives responded by pointing out that the Opteron product line is currently the incumbent. “There remain critical advantages in the AMD64 platform not addressed by extending the Intel Prescott architecture to 64-bits,” said Ben Williams, vice president of enterprise and server/workstation business for AMD, of Sunnyvale, Calif. “While Intel has done a good job of adopting some elements of AMD64, they have yet to address the fundamental architectural differences that make the AMD Athlon 64 and AMD Opteron processors superior.”
AMD currently serves a broader market of one- to eight-way servers and one- to two-way workstations, Williams said. In addition, the Opteron will also enjoy a low-power advantage.
Intels Tumwater/Nocona platform has tried to mitigate that advantage by building in a technology called DBS (demand-based switching), which monitors the application load on the processor. If a processor is running under a reduced load, the chip set can dial back the operating voltage, reducing the power the chip consumes.
In a white paper due to be released in a few weeks, Intel will claim that the DBS technology will consume 28 percent less power on a “typical configuration,” which includes a gigabyte of DRAM, the Nocona and Tumwater platform, and 30 percent CPU utilization, according to Scott Smith, a spokesman for Intel.
The market advantage is somewhat muddier in software, where both companies are waiting for Microsoft Corp. to ship a final version of its Windows Server 2003 and Windows XP Pro software with support for both companies 64-bit technologies. Both companies will also be subject to the development cycles of third-party IHVs, which will have to write drivers for the new 64-bit OSes.
“Youll always need new drivers for the 64-bit OSes,” sad Nathan Brookwood, an analyst with Insight64 in Saratoga, Calif. “The common ones like the chip set will be available rapidly. The more esoteric ones will be a big constraint on anyone moving to 64-bit Windows environments, something like a printer driver or something mundane like that.”
Prices of the new Nocona chips will range from $209 to $851, in 1,000-unit lots.
Editors Note: This story was updated with comments from Intel executives and analyst Brookwood.