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Intel cancels one Xeon, accelerates another

The company has scrapped plans for a 2GHz Xeon processor for servers but has accelerated release of a 2.2GHz Xeon with enhanced performance features to fill the gap.

Intel has scrapped plans for a 2GHz Xeon processor for servers but has accelerated release of a 2.2GHz Xeon with enhanced performance features to fill the gap.

The Santa Clara, Calif.-based chipmaker had planned to release a 2GHz version of Xeon for two-processor servers in the fourth quarter of this year, according to an Intel representative. That project has now been snuffed. However, the company will now release "Prestonia," the code name for a 2.2GHz Xeon for dual-processor servers, at the beginning of the first quarter of 2002 rather than toward the end of the quarter. A 2GHz Xeon for two-processor workstations will come out in September.

The change in plans to some degree underscores the conservative nature of the market for servers.

In the consumer PC market, customers continually clamor for the latest and greatest. Server customers, by contrast, typically test computers for weeks and months before buying and then buy the exact same configuration of a computer for months or years. Improvements in chip speed therefore often mean only more time-consuming qualification testing.

"This is more than likely about shortening the qualification cycle and saving the customers a bit of money," said Kevin Krewell, an analyst at Microprocessor Report. "It (the cancelled Foster) is the same as the 2GHz Pentium 4 part."

The slightly accelerated release of Prestonia--and its accompanying Plumas chipset--also indicates that Intel appears to be succeeding in its conversion to the 130-nanometer (0.13-micron) manufacturing process.

Prestonia will be made on the 130-nanometer process, which means the chip's basic features measure 130 nanometers. Foster, part of the Xeon generation of chips, is based on the 180-nanometer process. Smaller features mean more circuits can be squeezed on a chip, cutting down manufacturing costs while increasing performance and reducing power consumption. Prestonia chips will also be made with copper rather than aluminum wires.

In late 1999, Intel found itself facing a chip shortage partly caused by difficulties in converting from the 250-nanometer process to the 180-nanometer process at a time of high demand. Last month, company executives and analysts said the 130-nanometer conversion was on track.

"The (130-nanometer) process is ramping like a hose," said Frank Spindler, vice president of Intel's mobile products group.

The company, in fact, released notebook chips on the 130-nanometer process this past summer and will come out with desktop Pentium 4's, code-named Northwood, running at 2GHz or higher in the fourth quarter.

The switch in manufacturing allows Intel to improve other architectural features of Prestonia as well. The chip will come with 512KB of integrated secondary cache, a reservoir of memory that stores data for quick access. The canceled chip, part of the Foster generation, would have had 256KB of secondary cache. Increasing the size of the cache typically improves performance. Both Foster and Prestonia are based on the Pentium 4 core.

Northwood will also contain 512KB of cache, sources have said.