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Compaq does chips for Pentium III servers

Compaq has designed a critical part of the technology that underlies the newest, most powerful Intel chips.

Compaq Computer has designed a critical part of the technology that underlies new eight-processor servers based on Intel chips and will receive royalties.

More than two years ago, Compaq joined with Corollary, a company designing the primary parts of the chip infrastructure that would enable computer makers to pack eight Pentium chips inside a single server.

Intel bought Corollary in November 1997 to obtain the designs for the company's "Profusion" chipset. While Corollary handled the main part of the design job, connecting two groups of four Pentium processors to talk to the memory, Compaq handled the design of the chips that connects the Profusion chip to the PCI bus used to connect up disk drives, network cards, and other hardware.

Intel will ship the Compaq-designed chips along with the rest of the Profusion technology, and Compaq will receive a royalty in return, said Keith McAuliffe, vice president of engineering for Compaq's server products division.

The Profusion design itself comes in a two-chip package, each chip as big as an ordinary CPU. Prototypes were built by LSI Logic.

The Profusion chips, though, have been suffering from delays. The catch, McAuliffe said, was tying together the new chip designs with the nitty-gritty hardware details of the latest chip manufacturing technology. That detailed knowledge--factors such as how fast a signal will travel through a circuit--is critical to designing the chips.

The Profusion/Compaq design likely will be used by top-tier Intel server companies, McAuliffe said. Compaq's models are due in the second quarter of 1999.

Compaq isn't the only company with eight-processor systems in the works. Several companies, including IBM and Hewlett-Packard have been showing the systems since November.

In related news, these companies and more will be showing systems on March 17 when Intel debuts the Pentium III Xeon chip--code-named "Tanner"--as part of its weeks-long rollout of the new Pentium III series for servers and workstations. The Pentium III Xeon will be available at 500-MHz speeds with "cache" sizes of 512K, 1MB, and 2MB, and at 550-MHz speeds with a cache size of 512K, sources say.

The new servers will be able to take advantage of the higher chip speeds, McAuliffe said, but the new SSE instructions in the Pentium III chips won't be a factor.

Compaq is doing its best to dispel the myths that software won't be able to take advantage of the new hardware, he added. Microsoft Windows NT 4 can use all eight processors without difficulty, he said.

Compaq also is debuting new four-processor systems next week that will come with the 500-MHz versions of the new Pentium III Xeon chip.

Compaq's new four-processor ProLiant systems have been squashed down to a height of 7 inches, allowing as many as 40 processors to be stacked within a single rack for corporate customers who need to pack servers in as densely as possible, McAuliffe said.

The rack-mount version--which combines multiple server computers into a relatively compact rack--is densely packed with cooling fans and modular boards, all held together with thumbscrews so the machine can be completely disassembled and reassembled in 15 minutes with no special tools. The system's power supplies, processors, fans, and PCI cards can be swapped out without having to shut the system down.

Compaq isn't the first to fit four-chip systems into such a small space. Data General accomplished the task in January, though with slower and therefore cooler chips.

Key to the high-powered Intel servers is the Xeon chip line, which comes with more of the special high-speed cache than ordinary Pentiums. In addition, the cache runs faster.

But when Intel debuted its Pentium II Xeons, there were problems running at the highest speeds in the four-processor configuration. While Intel worked on the glitch, server vendors were left in short supply.

This time around, the new Pentium III Xeons don't have those problems, McAuliffe said. "Intel is not forecasting any restrictions in chip supply. We're ramping this product right now," he said, referring to the four-way Proliant 6000 and 6400R systems.

The Corollary/Compaq design is allows systems to be tailored to the task at hand, with lots of processors, lots of memory, or lots of input/output abilities, McAuliffe said. "People won't have to pay a heavy tax to support the eight-way infrastructure," he said.

The first systems will support as many as 16 gigabytes of memory.