Intel boasts that the new chip, which runs at 500 MHz and contains up to 2MB of performance-enhancing cache memory will put it in the same class as Reduced Instruction Set Computing (RISC) chips, the powerful processors that run many high-end corporate servers and workstations. With this chip, Intel and the PC powers aim to take market share from companies that sell multiprocessor RISC and Unix operating system-based products, such as Sun Microsystems.
The 500-MHz Pentium III Xeon comes with 512KB, 1MB, or 2MB of cache memory and can be used in one-, two- or four-processor systems. Intel will then release a 550-MHz version of the chip containing 512KB of cache memory in April, while versions with 1MB and 2MB of cache memory that can be used in four- and eight-processor systems will follow in the third quarter. The chip will exceed 600 MHz before the end of the year, added Paul Otellini, general manager of the Intel Architecture Business Group.
With these speeds, the Intel architecture is and will be a driving force in all aspects of computing, he said.
"The Internet is powered by Intel," he said. "One hundred percent of the growth in the workstation marketplace was made by Intel architecture [systems]."
While Xeons bring power to the platform, they are also important to Intel's bottom line. The 500-MHz Xeon with 512KB costs $931 in volume, a few hundred more than the nearly identical 500-MHz Pentium III, Intel's most expensive desktop chip. The 500-MHz Xeon with 2MB of cache goes for $3,692 in volume.
Although more expensive than desktop chips, Intel has been rapidly expanding into the server and workstation arena because RISC products are still more expensive, according to analysts. Moreover, the additional revenue permits Intel to cut prices at the low end of the product line without cutting profits.
"Xeon has been growing fast enough to keep our average selling price flat," said Mike Aymar, an Intel vice president. "Our average selling prices have been pretty stable in the past few quarters."
Aymar and several computer executives also added that the current supplies of all types of Xeons appear to be adequate. Last year, two separate bugs forced Intel to delay releasing Xeons for four-processor systems, which in turn engendered a shortage.
Nonetheless, Intel's plans to move into the eight-processor server market is still on the way. While eight-processor Intel servers were originally slated for late 1998, and then for the first quarter, most server vendors won't ship systems until the third quarter, said Otellini and others. The Profusion chipset that is crucial to eight-way servers is in the validation process and won't hit volume until the second quarter, he said. Both Compaq and IBM are contributing to the Profusion effort.
"They have been making tremendous progress on workstations and servers," said Nathan Brookwood, a consultant with Insight 64. The transition to Pentium III Xeon, from Pentium II Xeon, he added, should be easier than Intel's first foray with the Pentium II Xeon last year.
But PC makers, like Gateway, may be offering some of the most compelling systems--in this case for consumers, not information system departments or engineers.
Many companies are singing from Intel's songbook. Among today's announcements:
IBM also will offer eight-processor systems using the Profusion chipset in the second quarter of 1999.
In workstations, IBM is offering the new Xeon in its high-end Xeon-based IntelliStation Z Pro systems in single- and dual-processor configurations, the company said. In addition, the company will offer the system with Big Blue's new Fire GL 1 video system, designed by IBM and produced in partnership with Diamond Multimedia. The Fire GL 1, migrated down from IBM's Unix-based RS/6000 workstation division, can take advantage of the new Pentium III instructions.
While SGI is working on adding servers based on Intel chips to its product line, the company hasn't yet announced any systems.
Among those showing new servers and workstations are Compaq, IBM, Hewlett-Packard, Dell, Gateway, Toshiba, Silicon Graphics, Sequent, and Data General, all of which will show new systems at a debut taking place in San Francisco and New York.
News.com's Brooke Crothers contributed to this report.