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Klamath sees its limitations

Intel's next-generation P6 processor will have limited use in server computers though it will find a happy home in desktop PCs.

Intel's (INTC) next-generation P6 processor due in the second quarter will have limited use in server computers initially though it will find a happy home in desktop PCs.

This second-generation P6 chip, code-named Klamath, ultimately will be a successor to both the Pentium and the current Pentium Pro processor (the Pentium Pro being the first-generation P6 design). However, the first version of Klamath will be mostly a high-end desktop processor and find limited application in servers due to the performance limitations of the processor.

The Pentium processor is the processor for mainstream desktop PCs, while the Pentium Pro is used in higher-end desktops and in server computers.

"Klamath, out the door, will be for the desktop," said John Young, director of systems-platform marketing at Compaq.

Young cites the fact that Klamath is not initially expected to support technologies necessary for most servers used in larger corporations.

These shortcomings include support for only a maximum of two processors, eliminating the capability to set up true multiprocessing on Klamath servers. The Pentium Pro architecture, on the other hand, supports up to four processors, and technologies are available already which push this to as many as eight processors.

Analysts agree. Because of this, "Four [processor] systems will remain a Pentium Pro stronghold," according to Michael Slater writing in the Microprocessor Report.

Multiprocessing speeds up performance since more computations can be done simultaneously on a number of processors, as opposed to having all the number-crunching centered on only one processor.

Another problem is that Klamath will communicate with high-speed memory chips, known as cache, at a slower speed than the Pentium Pro. "In server applications, Klamath's [slower] cache is a bigger hindrance than on desktops strengthening the Pentium Pro's position in servers," Slater adds.

Compaq's Young also cites the expectation that Klamath will not provide an across-the-board performance improvement over the 200-MHz Pentium Pro. Only when Klamath reaches a speed of 266 MHz will this happen, he adds.

This performance issue will also impact Klamath's positioning on the high-end desktop. "A 200-MHz Pentium Pro may...outperform a 233-MHz Klamath on applications that benefit from the faster...cache," according to Slater.

Moreover, Klamath is not expected to have support for a high-quality memory technology necessary for servers known as ECC, or Error Correcting Code.

Nevertheless, Compaq may use the chip in the second half of this year in entry-level servers, which do not have the high-reliability, high-performance requirements of the typical server used in larger corporations.

But overall, these issues will leave Klamath to the high-end desktop market. Since Klamath will come with MMX technology, it will be a compelling chip for MMX-Pentium users who want the highest performance available.