Intel releases new high-end Xeon processors

Chipmaker introduces first high-end models to include 64-bit features designed to easily accommodate large amounts of memory.

SAN FRANCISCO--Intel released on Tuesday a new generation of Xeon chips, its first high-end models to include 64-bit features designed to easily accommodate large amounts of memory.

The new Xeon MP models, designed for machines with four processors, include the 64-bit extensions that Intel previously sold only in Xeon DP models for dual-processor servers. There are two new Xeon MP varieties: the less expensive "Cranford" model with 1MB of high-speed cache memory and the more powerful "Potomac" model with either 4MB or 8MB of cache.

Intel unveiled the processors at an event here with top server executives from x86 server market leader Hewlett-Packard and rivals Dell, IBM and Unisys. The Santa Clara, Calif.-based chipmaker also began selling an accompanying E8500 chipset, code-named Twin Castle, that connects the processors to the rest of the system and is meant to improve memory, data transfer and input-output features.

Intel rival Advanced Micro Devices pioneered the 64-bit extensions to such x86 processors and already sold 64-bit models for four-processor servers. Even with only dual-processor models available, though, servers with Intel's 64-bit processors already outsell those with AMD's chips.

AMD hopes to leapfrog Intel again in mid-2005 by introducing dual-core processors, which employ two processing engines on each slice of silicon. Intel's dual-core processors, both DP and MP models, will arrive in early 2006, said Jeff Richardson, general manager of Intel's Server Platforms Group.

The arms race is a new feature for the x86 server market, on which customers spent $6.1 billion in 2004, according to Gartner. Intel had the market to itself for most of the 10 years that have gone by since the company introduced its first server-oriented product, the Pentium Pro, for dual-processor machines. Intel and AMD both hope to grow at the expense of processor alternatives such as Sun Microsystems' UltraSparc and IBM's Power.

Customers should be able to upgrade the new servers introduced Tuesday with dual-core processors coming in 2006, said Pat Gelsinger, senior vice president of Intel's Digital Enterprise Group. "Our intention is that you'll be able to drop the dual cores...into the same sockets as we come to those product offerings next year," Gelsinger said. "That's what customers are looking for."

The top-end Xeon MP running at 3.33GHz with 8MB of cache memory costs $3,692 when purchased 1,000 at a time, Intel said. A somewhat slower 3GHz model costs $1,980.

That price tag is not far from the current top-end Itanium processor, which costs $4,227 and includes 9MB of cache.

A third Potomac model with 4MB of cache and a 2.83GHz clock speed cuts the cost to $1,177.

Two Cranford models also went on sale, both with 1MB of cache. A 3.66GHz model costs $963, while the 3.16GHz model costs $722, Intel said.

The E8500 chipset costs $255. The chipset includes two front-side buses, the data pathways that lead to the processors, instead of the single pathway of prior generations. In addition, the front-side bus operates at 667MHz instead of 400MHz and has better error-correction technology.

The chipset also supports DDR2 (double data rate 2) memory, which is faster and consumes less power than prevailing technology, and the PCI Express input-output technology, which is faster than today's prevailing PCI.

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