Xeon chips are souped-up versions of their more ordinary Pentium brethren. Xeons have larger amounts of the high-speed "cache" memory that satisfy the information appetite of ever-faster processors, and that cache runs just as fast as the chip itself. In ordinary Pentium III chips, the cache runs at half the speed of the CPU.
The new chips, previously code-named Tanner, will run at 500 MHz and 550 MHz.
According to Intel, the performance enhancements have put Xeon in the same class as Reduced Instruction Set Computing (RISC) chips, the powerful processors that run many high-performance servers.
"The Intel architecture products have moved from last place to essentially first place," said Paul Otellini, executive vice president and general manager of the Intel Architecture Business Group, who will preside over the St. Patrick's Day event.
More advanced multiprocessing remains another Xeon feature. In the second quarter, a new chipset from Intel called "Profusion" will allow server manufacturers to build eight-processor servers under a standard architecture. Standardizing the architecture generally lowers the manufacturing cost, and hence is expected to bring more pressure onto RISC server vendors.
Xeons also cost hundreds and even thousands more dollars than Pentium III chips, so the introduction of new chips will become an important event in Intel's financial life. Last year, a glitch prevented Intel from shipping enough Xeons that could work in four-processor systems. The culmination of the eight-processor dream has slipped a number of times.
Somewhat less glamorous, but still complex, will be the four-processor systems debuting Wednesday from IBM, Compaq, HP, and others.
Among the announcements coming next week:
IBM also will offer eight-processor systems using the Profusion chipset in the second quarter of 1999.
In workstations, IBM will roll out the new Xeon in its high-end Xeon-based IntelliStation Z Pro systems in single- and dual-processor configurations, the company said. In addition, the company will offer the system with Big Blue's new Fire GL 1 video system, designed by IBM and produced in partnership with Diamond Multimedia. The Fire GL 1, migrated down from IBM's Unix-based RS/6000 workstation division, can take advantage of the new Pentium III instructions.
IBM will offer workstations with both the 500-MHz and 550-MHz Xeons, one industry source said.
HP will use the new 500-MHz and 550-MHz Xeons in its mid-level Kayak XU workstations, too. A version with a 9.1 GB hard disk, entry-level graphics card, and 500-MHz Xeon will go for about $4,300.
While SGI is working on adding servers based on Intel chips to its product line, but the company hasn't yet announced any systems.
News.com reporter Michael Kanellos contributed to this report.