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Intel releases new Xeon chips running at 700 MHz

The chipmaker releases its most powerful processor to date, a new Xeon that takes advantage of technology introduced with earlier, lower-end Pentium III chips.

Intel has released its most powerful processor to date, a new Xeon that takes advantage of technology introduced with earlier, lower-end Pentium III chips.

The new Xeons run at 700 MHz and are built with the cache as part of the chip itself, said Anthony Ambrose, a marketing manager for Intel's high-end chip group. Earlier Xeons top out at 550 MHz and have a separate and therefore slower cache, the special high-speed memory used to keep the processor fed with data and things to do.

The chip is the most powerful to date, a rung up on the ladder Intel is climbing to try to displace brawnier chips from Sun Microsystems, IBM, Compaq Computer, SGI and Hewlett-Packard. These processors are used in the growing market for mammoth servers that contain dozens of chips and cost hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars--a prestigious and profitable product category.

With this "onboard" cache and higher clock speed, servers doing jobs such as database transactions show performance gains of about 25 percent to 40 percent over the older Xeons, Ambrose said.

The chips will be hard to come by for at least two months, however. "Demand has outstripped supply on the 700 (MHz Xeon) for the next 60 days or so," Ambrose said. Intel expects to meet demand in the third quarter of 2000, he said.

The new Xeons will be used in a 32-processor server from Unisys that Compaq also is selling, Ambrose said. And IBM will use the Xeons in a new 64-processor machine to be announced later this week, based on the Numa-Q design IBM acquired by buying Sequent.

Intel has a ways to go, though. Servers with the new Xeons, while more powerful than their predecessors, still don't have the market position of those from IBM, HP or Sun. Intel's effort to take on these higher-powered systems will accelerate most dramatically later this year with the arrival of the Itanium chip, a completely new design for Intel.

"In general, the server segment is extremely crucial to Intel," Ambrose said, though he added, "Clearly, the desktop market is much bigger."

In addition to being the most powerful, the chip also is Intel's largest CPU to date--a walloping 140 million transistors, five times the number on the ordinary Pentium IIIs.

A new 700-MHz Xeon with 2MB of cache will cost $1,980 in quantities of 1,000. A version with 1MB cache will cost $1,177. Although more expensive than desktop processors, these introductory prices are low, historically speaking, for Xeons. The 2MB version is debuting at the price formerly given to the 1MB version.

The lower prices are likely designed to blunt potential competition from AMD's upcoming Mustang processor, a variant on the Athlon for servers, and pave the way for the introduction of Itanium and Foster, two server processors from Intel.

Another advantage for the new Xeons is that they're built with Intel's 0.18-micron manufacturing process, which enables more chips to be sliced from a single wafer of silicon. The first chips built on the 0.18-micron process and using onboard cache were Intel's "Coppermine" line of Pentium IIIs that debuted in 1999.

Xeons differ from ordinary Pentium IIIs because they can be grouped into bunches of four and can address larger sizes of memory, making them more useful for powerful servers that have to handle tasks such as managing access to databases. The Xeons also come with much larger caches.

The older 550-MHz Xeons will continue to be sold, Ambrose said. The chips are used in servers that customers usually test for long periods of time, so new chips aren't added to the product line as fast as with desktop machines.