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New Xeon systems due this week

Intel will debut its new Pentium III Xeon chip Wednesday, and a torrent of new servers and workstations will be unleashed along with it.

Intel will debut its new Pentium III Xeon chip Wednesday, and a torrent of new servers and workstations will be unleashed along with it.

Compaq, IBM, Hewlett-Packard, Dell, Gateway, Toshiba, Silicon Graphics, Sequent, and Data General all will show new systems at the Intel rollout next week.

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 will begin selling its high-end Netfinity 7000M10 server with the 500-MHz Xeons. The four-processor systems, which start at $9,900, support up to 8 gigabytes of memory and come with IBM's "chip kill" technology, which can correct for communication errors from a computer's memory. And at the lower end, IBM will a four-processor 5500M20 system beginning at $8,000, a spokesperson said.

    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 offer Pentium III Xeons in all the NetServers using the Xeon chip, said Chris Bennett, product planning manager at HP. That includes the LH 4 and LXr servers. HP also will offer an eight-processor model using the Profusion chipset, though no ship date has been set yet, he 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.

  • Toshiba will start offing Magnia 5100 servers using the 500-MHz and 550-MHz Xeons beginning in June. These two-processor systems will be available with all the configurations of the new Xeon chips: 550 MHz with a 512K cache, or 500 MHz with a 512K, 1MB, or 2MB cache.

  • Gateway will offer 500-MHz and 550-MHz Xeons in its E-5250 workstations, a spokesperson said. Gateway also will propagate Xeon across its ALR 7300, 8300, and 9200 server lines.

  • Dell's server lineup will be updated with the new Xeons on Wednesday. In addition, Dell put the new 550-MHz Xeon chip into its high-end Precision Workstation 610, available immediately and with prices starting at $3,000, not including a monitor.

  • Compaq will begin selling four-processor versions of its rack-mount ProLiant 6400R and free-standing ProLiant 6000 servers using the new chip, the company said.

  • SGI will show a version of its high-end Xeon-based Visual Workstation 540. The machine won't actually begin shipping until the second quarter of 1999.

    While SGI is working on adding servers based on Intel chips to its product line, but the company hasn't yet announced any systems.

  • Sequent, which specializes in higher-end systems than most Intel system vendors, will bring the Xeon chip to its lineup by the end of June. On Wednesday the company will show a system that combines four Pentium Pro chips, four Pentium II Xeons, and four Pentium III Xeons under one roof.

  • Data General will show its processor on its Aviion servers with the new Xeon at the show Wednesday as it starts using the new chip.

    News.com reporter Michael Kanellos contributed to this report.