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Intel fixes Xeon chip

The chip giant solves a notorious problem with its server chip and says that volume shipments have begun.

Intel has fixed a notorious bug with its Xeon processors and says that volume shipments of the high-end server chip, as well as four-processor servers based around the chip, have begun.

Intel got around the bug--which disabled a crucial memory function on chips used in sophisticated four-processor servers--by changing the circuitry on the chip, according to Anthony Ambrose, director of marketing for the enterprise server group. As a result of the manufacturing fix, Intel can now ship many more of the chips, which should alleviate pent-up demand.

"We're now in full production of the product. We've been able to meet demand in the fourth quarter," Ambrose said. "Yields are substantially better."

In addition, Sequent will show off a server that employs 32 450-MHz Xeon processors at once on Monday, he said. This would be one of the most advanced applications of this chip so far, which has been typically limited to two- or four-processor machines.

The bug, reported earlier this year, affected only servers using four Xeon processors. Although these machines constitute a relatively small sliver of the overall server market, this segment represents one of the more promising growth markets for Intel and its partners. The existence of the bug significantly slowed down sales of--and momentum for--four-way servers, according to hardware vendors.

The bug was also an embarrassment to Intel. One of the touted advantages of the Xeon processor is that it is designed to work in four-processor configurations.

Xeon debuted at the end of the second quarter, but, partly because of the delay, the chip has yet to contribute much to the overall bottom line, according to financial analysts.

Intel initially got around the bug by testing the chips individually, a time consuming process, said Ambrose. Changing the circuitry allowed Intel to boost volumes.

The bug disabled the Error Correcting Code (ECC), a chip-level function which ensures that data in the processor and main memory are the same, on some chips. The screening process allowed a small stream of chips to emerge, but not enough to meet demand. Another publicized Xeon bug was repaired earlier.

The chips most immediately affected by the fix will be 400-MHz Xeon chips with up to 1MB of cache memory. In high-end systems, super-fast cache memory is crucial for speeding up system performance. Intel offers different versions of its chips for every speed grade: a 512K (kilobyte) version, a 1MB (megabyte) version, and a 2MB version. The more cache memory, the better the performance.

Ambrose, however, added that the manufacturing fix will not speed up the delivery of the fastest Xeon running at 450 MHz with the largest amount of cache.

450 MHz chips containing up to 2MB of cache memory are still slated to come out at the beginning of next year.

Intel is an investor in CNET: The Computer Network, publisher of News.com.