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Higher-end dual-core Xeons, servers arrive

Intel announces dual-core Xeon for higher-end servers--and its top allies announce new four-processor servers using the chip.

Intel launched its dual-core Xeon processor for higher-end servers on Tuesday, and its top server allies--IBM, Dell and Hewlett-Packard--all announced new four-processor servers using the chip.

The new chips have two processing engines, called cores, on a single slice of silicon, making each chip work somewhat like two single Xeon processors. The move helps Intel catch up to rival Advanced Micro Devices--which in April introduced its dual-core Opteron--in a significant domain.

The chip announced Tuesday, code-named Paxville, is for servers with four processor-sockets. To reduce AMD's advantage, Intel had already released a version for two-socket servers in October. The company has been hustling; it released Paxville five months earlier than planned, Kirk Skaugen, general manager of Intel's Server Platforms Group, said in a conference call with reporters on Tuesday.

"Intel is working very hard to make this dual-core turn, and doing a surprisingly good job at it," said Illuminata analyst Jonathan Eunice. However, it's having a harder time with the Itanium side of its server chip work: Intel has delayed its dual-core "Montecito" model until mid-2006.

Paxville products introduce a new Intel hardware feature called Virtualization Technology (VT), code-named Vanderpool, which simplifies running multiple operating systems on the same server. The feature improves the performance and flexibility of software such as VMware's ESX Server or Xen.

However, support for VT won't be enabled until software is more mature, Skaugen said. Then computer users could activate the feature through a hardware configuration process. "We're working with the industry to turn this capability on--once the software is ready--via a BIOS switch in the early 2006 time frame," he said.

For dual-processor servers, VT support will arrive with the Dempsey dual-core processor due in the first quarter of 2006. AMD plans to introduce its equivalent technology, code-named Pacifica, in the first half of 2006.

Early models will come with a connection to the rest of the system, called the front-side bus, which runs at 667MHz. In the first quarter of 2006, the systems will be upgraded with models using an 800MHz front-side bus, the biggest benefit of which is faster memory access.

Intel introduced a new numbering scheme with the Paxville line, calling them the 7000 series, and the pricing and model numbers match those reported by CNET News.com in October.

The 3GHz 7040 and 7041, with dual 2MB caches and 667MHz and 800MHz front-side buses respectively, cost $3,157 in quantities of 1,000. The 2.66GHz 7020, with dual 1MB caches and a 667MHz bus, costs $1,177. The 2.8GHz 7030, with dual 1MB caches and an 800MHz bus, costs $1,980.

Intel is working on new members of the Xeon MP family for multiprocessor servers. Next in line is "Tulsa," which would come with 16MB of high-speed cache memory, Skaugen said.

Tulsa would be built using a manufacturing process with circuitry features that measure 65 nanometers, significantly smaller than the 90-nanometer features of Paxville. (A nanometer is a billionth of a meter.) Tulsa will fit into the existing Truland server platform used by Paxville and its single-core predecessors, Potomac and Cranford, introduced earlier in 2005.

Last week, Intel announced a change to its post-Tulsa plans. It had planned to release the "Whitefield" chip, but has replaced it with "Tigerton."

The key difference between the two chips is how each communicates with the rest of the system: Tigerton's interconnect will "more than double" how much data can be transferred to and from the chip in a given amount of time, in comparison to Xeon servers with the Truland platform, Skaugen said. Also, the new interconnect will be faster than what had been planned with Whitefield, Skaugen said. He refused to say how much faster.

Among the servers introduced Tuesday using the new chip:

• IBM is using the processors in its x460, which has a starting price of $20,999. The x460 accommodates as many as 32 Xeon processors when eight chassis are linked together. Intel's new dual-core Xeon processor will also go into IBM's four-processor x366, whose starting price is $9,999.

• HP plans to release two Paxville MP models next week, spokesman Eric Kreuger said: the ProLiant DL580 G3 and the ML570 G3. Both use a 667MHz front-side bus, but an upgrade in the first quarter of 2006 will offer a 800MHz bus.

• Dell released the Xeon as a new option for its free-standing PowerEdge 6800 and rack-mounted 6850 servers. The systems have a starting cost of about $6,800, Dell said.