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Intel chip hits eight-core milestone

Chipmaker is integrating the largest number of cores onto one chip in its history--an average three-fold jump in performance, it says.

Intel is integrating the largest number of processing cores onto one chip in its history, a boon for server makers looking to squeeze more performance into less space.

Boyd Davis
Intel's Boyd Davis with eight-core chip: a milestone for the chipmaker. Intel

The Xeon 7500 offers what Intel is saying is the largest performance leap in the history of its Xeon line, with an average three-fold jump in performance. And the feat of putting eight cores on one die--the raw chip--offers practical advantages to data centers. As a yardstick, data centers can replace 20 single core, four-chip servers with a single new Xeon 7500 processor series-based system, according to Intel.

Servers using the Xeon 7500 can use up to 256 chips per server, Intel said.

Like other Intel Core i series processors, the Xeon 7500 features a technology called "hyper-threading," which can double the number of tasks--or threads--a processor can execute. So, an eight-core processor can handle 16 threads. This technology is not offered on prior-generation Core 2 chips.

Intel is also supporting more memory. New servers based on the 7500 will boast a four-fold increase in memory capacity, with support for up to 1 terabyte in four-processor configurations.

The Xeon 7500 follows an announcement from Advanced Micro Devices on Monday of a 12-core processor, which combines two six-core die.

"Both AMD and Intel are demonstrating huge leaps in performance per watt," said Jim McGregor, chief technology strategist at In-Stat, adding that this represents the biggest challenge to high-end RISC server suppliers to date. RISC, or reduced instruction set computer, is chip technology offered in servers from Sun Microsystems and IBM.

But it's not just about more cores. Intel, like AMD, is adding security and reliability features that make servers from companies like Cisco and Dell more attractive to customers who may have opted for RISC-based servers, according to McGregor.

And both Intel and AMD have increased the number of memory channels, which is a requirement for the most performance sensitive servers, McGregor said.

Pricing for the Xeon 7500 will range from $1,980 for a six-core X7542 to $3,692 to the eight-core X7560. This contrasts with a 12-core 2.3GHz AMD 6100 series chip priced at $1,386. But individual chip pricing has less significance for servers than for laptops and desktops, according to McGregor. Server suppliers price their systems based on a variety of criteria that diminish the impact of individual chip cost.

Server makers slated to supply Xeon 7500-based systems include Cisco Systems, Cray, Dell, Fujitsu, Hitachi, HP, IBM, NEC, Oracle, and SGI.