Compaq, HP to build low-power Intel servers

Intel releases an ultralow-power version of its Pentium III chip in the first of two server attacks on Transmeta, whose low-power chip designs beat it to market.

Stephen Shankland
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3 min read
LAS VEGAS--Compaq Computer and Hewlett-Packard will be among the mainstream server makers to release single- and dual-processor systems based on a new CPU that Intel announced Tuesday.

As expected, Intel released at the Comdex Fall 2001 trade show an ultralow-power version of its Pentium III chip, a 700MHz model that consumes comparatively little power, for use in superthin "blade" servers. These servers are designed to deliver Web pages, match computer names with network addresses, and perform other tasks that require numerous lower-end servers.

Compaq's "QuickBlade" and HP's "PowerBar" are among the models that will use the chip, executives said. The chip is identical to an Intel model for mobile computers but is distinguished by an accompanying chipset that lets the CPU use as much as 2GB of memory and protect against corrupted data transfer with the Error Correction Code (ECC) system.

Compaq's designs will be shipped in volume in the first quarter, said Sally Stevens, marketing director for the company's density-optimized servers. Compaq will announce prices in January.

The Houston-based company hopes to beat out blade server competitors with its accompanying QuickSilver management software, which will let administers send commands to thousands of servers in one fell swoop, Stevens said.

Intel's chip announcement Tuesday will be the first of two server attacks on Transmeta, a company whose low-power chip designs beat Intel to the server market. Now, just when most server companies using Transmeta chips are on the ropes, Intel has begun selling the ultralow-power Pentium III, and in the first quarter of 2002 will begin selling chips for dual-processor blade servers along with a faster CPU that's not as energy efficient, said Shannon Poulin, a manager with Intel's Enterprise Platform Group.

Intel is relying on its steady partner and sometimes competitor ServerWorks, a Broadcom subsidiary, to supply the chipset for the two-processor model, a source familiar with the plan said. Intel and Compaq declined to comment on whose chipset is used.

The new CPU costs $209 in thousand-unit quantities, and the accompanying 440GX chipset costs $54 in similar quantities, Intel said.

see tech trends: CNET.com: What's hot, and not, at Comdex This quarter's and next quarter's CPUs will be part of the Pentium III "Tualatin" line, which uses a manufacturing process with tiny 130-nanometer (0.13 micron) features. The server chips come with 512KB of high-speed cache memory, twice that of the earlier 180-nanometer generation.

In 2003, Intel plans to release a new line of mobile chips, also with a spinoff for low-power servers, code-named Banias, Poulin said. This will be the first CPU with low-power features designed into the basic architecture; the Tualatin chips are lower power than, say, their Pentium 4 siblings, chiefly because their tinier wires use lower voltage.

Bladed, or ultradense, models get their name because thin server motherboards are stacked up like plates in a cabinet or books in a bookshelf. The systems are increasingly popular for lower-end server tasks such as delivering Web pages or housing protective firewalls, in part because bladed servers consume less floor space and electricity than regular servers, but also because companies are designing them to be more easily managed en masse.

HP, Compaq, Dell Computer and IBM all are working on bladed server designs. HP's single-processor and dual-processor machines will arrive near the end of 2001, the company said.

Transmeta initially had the lead in ultradense servers, winning a place in designs from RLX Technologies, Amphus, Rebel.com and FiberCycle. But RLX has been laying off staff and recently overhauled top management; Amphus switched to Intel; and FiberCycle and Rebel.com expired.

Amphus and a partner that licensed its designs, Tatung, are building some of the first servers with the ultralow-power Pentium III.

HP also has been experimenting with a Transmeta-based server in its labs.

Intel is somewhat smug over its ability to win out over Transmeta. Part of the reason, Poulin said, is that Intel designs supported more than 2GB of ECC memory compared with Transmeta's 512KB of non-ECC memory. In addition, Intel's future plans include dual-processor designs.

News.com's Michael Kanellos contributed to this story from Las Vegas.