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Compaq ships Xeon servers

Successive bugs have delayed the release of servers based around the new chip since June.

Compaq and Dell have started to ship four-processor servers based around Intel's Xeon chip, the first two vendors to get these delayed machines out the door.

The debut of the Xeon ProLiant servers from Compaq and the 6300 PowerEdge from Dell mark the beginning of Intel's next big push into corporate computing. All of the top vendors have been waiting to introduce Xeon-based servers.

Since June successive bugs in the 400-MHz Xeon processor and a complementary chipset have delayed their release. The holdups came as a black eye to Intel, which has positioned Xeon as the first in a series of chips designed to move the Intel chip platform into the "enterprise" computing market, currently dominated by computers based on a different chip architecture.

On the eve of the chip's launch, a bug was discovered in the 450NX chipset that causes server computers using four processors to freeze up and stall. As a result, server vendors delayed the launch of new systems, which were ready to ship in late June.

While the first bug was being fixed, Intel came across a second bug that disables the ECC (Error Correction Code) function in four-way servers. ECC allows the processor to cross-check data in main memory and is considered an essential feature by customers.

Intel initially said that the flaw existed in the 450NX chipset, but it was eventually discovered to be incorporated in the processor itself, according to Tim Golden, director of enterprise server marketing at Compaq.

"It has not been identified as being in the processor," he said.

Like the original flaw, the second bug only occurs when four processors are used at once.

"There has been some errata with the Xeon, but that is behind us," said Golden. "This is the first opportunity anyone has had to ship a Xeon four-way server...The servers were ready to go then [in June], but that kind of held us up."

Compaq will include the Xeon in its ProLiant 6000 and 7000 servers, he said. A base configuration of the 6000 including a 400-MHz Xeon processor with 512K of secondary cache memory and 128MB of main memory will sell for around $10,800, according to Jeff Schnabel, server marketing manager for Compaq North America. A 7000 ProLiant with a 400-MHz Xeon with 1MB of secondary cache, 256MB of memory, and greater expandability for other features will start at $22,700.

A four-processor ProLiant 7000 will cost around $56,000.

Interestingly enough, Compaq will only use the 450NX chipsets in the four-way servers, said Golden. One- and two-way servers will come with the 440GX chipset, also found in workstations. The 440GX chipset can only accommodate two processors, but no bugs have been reported with its use.

Dell has included the Xeon in its PowerEdge 6300, which contain up to 4GB of memory and 128GB of storage. Base price begins at $8,999. A standard configuration with a single 400-MHz Xeon with 512KB of cache, 256GB of memory and three 9GB hard drives sells for $13,665. An upgrade to the 400-MHz Xeon with 1MB of cache can be had for an extra $1,600. Compaq on Friday claimed that they were the first vendor to ship a four-way Xeon processor system that had passed the latest testing procedures. A Dell spokesman, however, claimed this week that Dell actually began shipping two days earlier, but neglected to announce the fact.