Dell servers to hop on PCI Express

The company says it will adopt PCI Express in its servers next year, showing support for a new specification that promises to speed data and simplify how motherboards are made.

John G. Spooner Staff Writer, CNET News.com
John Spooner
covers the PC market, chips and automotive technology.
John G. Spooner
2 min read
Dell will move quickly to adopt PCI Express in its servers next year, in a show of support for the new input/output specification for connecting utility cards and computers to handle duties such as networking.

The Round Rock, Texas, PC maker will begin offering PCI Express on all of its PowerEdge servers in 2004, as it introduces new models in the product family, the company said this week.

PCI Express promises to speed up the flow of data inside computers and also simplify their design by allowing card manufacturers to use smaller cables and to shrink the size of the circuit boards they use to build products such as network cards. The specification also promises to simplify how motherboards are designed, Dell said.

Dell won't be the only manufacturer to have access to PCI Express. The specification--which stands to replace the current PCI specification, PCI-X, won't be available until mid-2004, when chipsets and cards that support the technology are made available. At that time, essentially any company that uses Intel chipsets or those from other companies that support the specification will be able to offer it.

Dell hopes to gain an edge by offering the technology immediately and marketing it aggressively to customers.

"We're being more aggressive than most in exposing that to the customer. That means giving PCI Express slots to the (server), rather than bridging it to something like PCI-X, though we think you have to have both," said Darrel Ward, senior manager at Dell's Product Group

Where Dell is firmly behind the PCI Express specification, not all manufacturers have signaled their intent to move quickly to the specification. And even Dell says the transition will take some time. The company will offer both PCI-X and PCI Express in its servers as long as its customers continue to request PCI-X support, Ward noted.

While it may take some time to be adopted, most computers will have the ability to use PCI Express, thanks to Intel, which sells the lion's share of the chips used to build them.

Intel will add the specification to a broad range of new chipsets, a bundle of chips that support its processors. Several other chipset makers are likely to support PCI Express as well. While it may show up first in servers, desktops and notebooks won't be far behind in beginning the transition, according to Intel.

Intel will add PCI Express to its chipsets for desktops and notebooks as well, where the specification will also connect graphics cards. The chipmaker said this week, for example, that PCI Express will be included in Sonoma, a refresh of its notebook chips, scheduled for the second half of 2004.