To date, the memory chips integrated into the Pentium II have not supported a kind of high-quality memory known as Error Correcting Code (ECC). Many large corporate customers demand that servers, which form the backbone of company-wide networks, come with ECC memory to ensure data integrity.
For example, a server or workstation computer used at a financial trading firm handling million- or billion-dollar transactions needs to ensure that a program comes up with the correct forecast. A memory glitch could potentially throw a forecast like this off.
The new Pentium II processor includes this capability for the Pentium II's on-board, high-speed memory, known as cache.
With this technology, errors that occur during transmission or storage of data can be detected and corrected. Standard memory chips do not have this capability.
NEC's top of the line Pentium II server will include two processors and sell for approximately $5,000, said Todd Berkowitz, an NEC spokesman. A two processor server with less memory will sell for $3,500. The servers will contain processors running at 233-MHz and 266-MHz. The company may also release a single processor server, he added that, if released, will sell for approximately $2000.
The lack of ECC has been one of the reasons that the Pentium II has, until now, not become a significant processor in the server arena. Intel itself has said that the lack of ECC support has been behind the relatively slow adoption of the Pentium II in servers. In fact, only two major server vendors currently market Pentium II servers.
The NEC servers will be directed at small to medium-sized businesses and workgroups, which is related to the other design limitation of the Pentium II. While the Pentium Pro-based machines can contain 1 to 4 processors, and up to 8 processors in proprietary machines, Pentium II machines can only come in 1 or 2 processor configurations, limiting their market and appeal.
In 1998, servers which can use eight processors are expected to proliferate. Versions of the Pentium II are expected at that time which can be designed into both four- and possibly eight-processor machines. Until then, however, they will be outshone in this ability by the "older" Pentium Pro.
"At this point, I don't see any sense in the Pentium II as a (high-end) server. As a midrange server, fine," said Amir Ahari, an analyst at International Data Corporation.
Still, inclusion of ECC should move this market forward. "We felt strongly about waiting for ECC's availability on the Pentium II processor," said John Anderson, vice president of marketing for NEC's Computer Systems Division, in a prepared statement.