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Intel's dual-core Xeon makes Dell debut

First server to come with Intel's dual-core Xeon marks a significant step in the allies' efforts to catch up with AMD.

Dell plans to announce Monday the first server to come with Intel's dual-core Xeon processor, a significant step in the allies' effort to catch up with technology from chipmaker Advanced Micro Devices.

Dell is bringing the new 2.8GHz chip to all of its dual-processor servers and to two workstation models. The products will begin shipping in October, said Neil Hand, Dell's vice president of worldwide enterprise marketing. Until then, he said, Dell is only taking orders from customers who agree to hold details under wraps.

Still, the move gives Intel and Dell a better response than just "stay tuned" to customers who might have been swayed by rivals' sales pitches for AMD Opteron-based servers. The Intel chip involved, code-named Paxville, is a new version of a processor originally designed for four-processor servers.

"The two-way segment is the sweet spot of the x86 server market, by far," Insight 64 analyst Nathan Brookwood said. "They were missing out on the biggest segments."

In April, AMD introduced Opteron processors with dual cores, or processing engines, and the chips are used in machines from Sun Microsystems, Hewlett-Packard and IBM--three of the top four server sellers. Intel has numerous dual-core and multicore processor designs under way, but its first dual-core server chips won't be released until later this year.

Dell's announcement comes before Intel's debut of the processor and on the same day AMD is announcing an Opteron speed boost.

The dual-core 2.8GHz Xeon outperforms the single-core equivalent running at 3.6GHz in several server speed tests that can take advantage of dual-core chips' better ability to perform multiple jobs at the same time. Microsoft Exchange runs 18 percent faster; database software, 37 percent; and Java applications, 43 percent, Dell said.

Dual-core chips typically run at lower clock speeds than single-core chips, so they don't consume more power or throw off more waste heat than their single-core equivalents. That--combined with proper engineering of processor communication electronics--enables Dell and its rivals to plug the dual-core parts into the same systems that previously used single-core parts.

Dell has four server models that will use the chip: the 1.75-inch-thick PowerEdge 1850, the 1855 blade server, the 3.5-inch-thick 2850 and the free-standing 2800. Their starting prices are $2,448, $2,448, $2,548, and $2,748, respectively. The Precision 470 and 670 workstations have starting prices of $2,479 and $2,779.

Hand said Dell is leaving the price of the single-core server models unchanged. However, he added, the price increase for the dual-core models is "significantly" less than the performance increase.

The servers are available with Red Hat Enterprise Linux or Windows Server 2003.

Even though the systems aren't shipping yet, Dell's announcement will make it harder for AMD to make its case, Brookwood said.

At one time, AMD could boast it was the only x86 chipmaker with 64-bit support--a black-and-white case compared with Intel. Then Intel followed, and AMD had to shift its argument to a grayer one based on performance. With Intel's dual-core Xeon, AMD is losing another black-and-white advantage, Brookwood said.

Later this year, Dell will begin selling servers based on the four-processor version of Paxville, Hand said.

Intel said it expects its dual-core "Bensley" processors, which are next-generation dual-core Xeon chips scheduled to ship in 2006, to be more popular than the dual-processor version of Paxville. But in the meantime, IBM and Hewlett-Packard--which, together with Dell, are Intel's biggest server customers--will sell dual-processor Paxville servers.

"When Bensley comes along, this will all look very old-fashioned," Brookwood said.