Fastest Intel Xeon chip arrives

Major computer makers roll out a series of new workstations using Intel's top-of-the-line Xeon chip.

Michael Kanellos Staff Writer, CNET News.com
Michael Kanellos is editor at large at CNET News.com, where he covers hardware, research and development, start-ups and the tech industry overseas.
Michael Kanellos
3 min read
Major computer makers rolled out a series of new workstations using Intel's top-of-the-line Xeon chip and Microsoft's Windows NT operating system.

The chip, and the workstations based around it, are designed to challenge the performance of Unix workstations, said Anand Chandrasekher, general manager of Intel's workstation division.

In fact, Xeon will increasingly become a chip for Unix operating systems because of the high-end markets the systems target. The upshot is that computer manufacturers and users will run not only Windows but a variety of operating systems including Unix and Linux.

"The large installed base of all of these high-end workstation environments is Unix, and there is a lot of infrastructure that people have and they will probably want that even as they migrate their architecture," he said. Most Xeon systems run Windows NT, but he added: "I think that you will see a mix of Unix and NT over time."

Dell Computer, Compaq Computer, Gateway, Hewlett-Packard, and Intergraph, among others, announced new workstations and servers today with the new chip.

As reported earlier, the only thing in short supply may be the Xeon chip itself, an issue that has dogged the high-end processor since its release June. Computer executives have said that getting adequate supplies of Intel's 400-MHz Xeon remains difficult, especially for servers, and the 450-MHz version is expected to be no exception.

For Intel's part, the company maintains that workstation Xeon chips are shipping in volume. Intel has told manufacturers that greater numbers of Xeon processors for servers will be available toward the end of the month. (Intel is an investor in CNET: The Computer Network.)

But while the shortage may lift soon, it will only apply to the lower end: Today's release comprises the 450-MHz Xeon with 512K of cache memory. 450-MHz Xeon with 1MB of cache memory won't come out until early 1999, according to Chandrasekher. Approximately 15 percent of Xeon workstations sold to date use the 1MB version of the chip, he said. Cache memory is critical for boosting chip performance.

Earlier in the year, Intel said it was delaying a high-end 2MB version of the 450-MHz Xeon for four-processor server computers. So far, the chip giant has released a slightly slower 400-MHz Xeon chip available with 512K or 1MB of cache.

New Xeon workstations, servers
Model Configuration Price
Dell Precision Workstation 610 450-MHz Xeon with 512K cache
4GB hard drive
Gateway E-5250 450-MHz Xeon with 512K cache
9GB hard drive
IBM Intellistation Z Pro 450-MHz Xeon with 512K cache
8GB hard drive
up to 2GB SDRAM
Compaq SP700 400 or 450-MHz Xeon with 512K cache $3,600 and up
HP Kayak XU 450-MHz Xeon with 512K cache NA
Gateway ALR 7300 450-MHz Xeon with 512K cache
Source: Various

Some system delays, again mostly with servers, are becoming apparent. Getting a Xeon-based server from Dell, for instance, takes around 25 days, executives there have said. Ordinarily, Dell servers take five to seven days to arrive.

Other manufacturers have said that they have back orders for Xeon machines as well. When Xeon was first released, most major computer makers only had a few hundred chips each, fewer than at a typical Intel launch.

Nonetheless, that is not stopping manufacturers from releasing products. Compaq debuted its SP700 workstation. The company's first Xeon workstation, it comes with either a 400- or 450-MHz Xeon chip with 512K of cache memory. Workstations using the 1MB version of the chip will be available by special order in the first quarter of 1999. Base price for the systems will start at $3,600.

Compaq has introduced a new graphics subsystem for its more powerful Xeon offerings that uses a graphics chip from Evans and Sutherland.

Dell and Hewlett-Packard, meanwhile, have released new versions of existing Xeon workstations.

Dell unveiled a version of its Precision 610 workstation with 512K of cache memory while HP released a new version of its Kayak workstation. The Dell system is priced beginning at $3,266 and available immediately.

Despite the shortages, Intel cut prices on the Xeon. The 400-MHz Xeon with 512K was dropped to $824. The 450-MHz Xeon is also priced at $824.

Intel also dropped the price of the 400-MHz Xeon with 1MB of cache from $2,836 to $2,675. The chip will drop to $1,980, according to sources, in anticipation of the release of the 1MB 450-MHz chip.