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450-MHz Xeon delayed again

Intel will put off releasing the 450-MHz Xeon chip for 4-processor servers until the first part of next year for more testing.

Intel will put off releasing the 450-MHz Xeon chip for 4-processor servers until the first part of next year, although the chip for use in 1- or 2-processor workstations and servers will come out later this year.

This latest delay will serve to allow more testing and product validation, according to the company. "We took a look at the validation process and decided to extend it," an Intel spokeswoman said.

The delay, like two other Xeon-related delays earlier this year, centers on how the chip interacts with Intel's 450NX chipset. Prior to Xeon's launch in June, a bug was discovered that caused servers running four 400-MHz Xeon processors and the 450NX chipset to freeze up. While that bug was being repaired, a second bug that disabled the error correction code (ECC) function turned up that delayed 4-way servers until the end of last month. ECC allows the processor to check data against main memory.

Both of these bugs have been repaired and four-way servers with a 400-MHz Xeon are shipping, according to Intel.

The bugs unearthed thus far are defects that exist inside of the Xeon processor itself but only manifest themselves when the processor is used in conjunction with the 450NX chipset. Similar problems have not been reported with the 1- and 2-way systems, which use the 440GX chipset.

The 450-MHz versions of Xeon will ship in the fall, the spokeswoman added. Sources indicated that this will mean a late October to November release.

The nature of the recent problems, however, mean that Intel may use the extra time to change aspects of the design of the chip itself.

The ECC bug is forcing Intel to screen the chips more carefully, an expensive process which can mean lower the number of acceptable chips per silicon wafer, according to Ashok Kumar, an analyst with Piper Jaffray. This lower yield means potentially lower profits, he pointed out.

While 4-way systems typically account for lower unit sales than 1- or 2-way machines, the problems with the 4-way systems have been embarrassing to the company. Xeon is the first in a series of chips designed to move the Intel chip platform into the "enterprise" computing market, which is currently dominated by computers based on a different chip architecture. Based around a Pentium II core, Xeon chips are enhanced by larger, and faster, secondary memory caches; 4-way processing has been one of the touted features of the chip. Only two Pentium II chips can be used in a standard server architecture.

Xeon has also been cited as a product that will contribute mightily to the bottom line at Intel. Unlike Pentium II chips, which sell for between $200 and $800 in volume, Xeon chips start at above $1,000 and go up, although the cost of manufacturing is only incrementally higher.

The original wholesale price for the 450-MHz version of Xeon with 2MB of secondary cache memory was more than $4,400. A revised price list showed that Intel planned to sell the chip to computer vendors and board manufacturers for around $3,690. Versions including 1MB and 512KB of secondary cache, were slated to carry prices above $2,600 and $1,000.

Intel is an investor in CNET: The Computer Network.