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Intel needs fancy footwork to market server chips

Two server processors will arrive only months apart, but Intel has a plan to avoid confusion.

SAN FRANCISCO--The closer-than-expected arrival of two similar next-generation server processors means Intel is crafting careful marketing messages to avoid confusion.

"Dempsey" is now in production and will arrive in servers in May or June. Its successor, "Woodcrest," uses the same interface and fits into the same machines, and is due to arrive in servers in the third quarter of the year. To avoid confusion, Intel will put the priority on Woodcrest while aiming Dempsey chiefly at more price-sensitive markets where its higher power consumption isn't as much of a problem, said Pat Gelsinger, general manager of Intel's Digital Enterprise Group.

"Woodcrest is the big dog. It gives us both performance and performance-per-watt leadership. That'll be the one we position most aggressively, market most aggressively and use as the flagship product," Gelsinger said in an interview Tuesday at the Intel Developer Forum. "If it's not in a particularly energy-efficiency (focused) segment, Dempsey is a great product."

IDF Spring 2006

Woodcrest is designed for dual-processor x86 servers, the part of the market where the majority of systems are sold and one where Intel rival Advanced Micro Devices has been making gains. Intel hopes to recoup losses with Woodcrest, which it said offers an 80 percent performance boost over current dual-core Xeon chips while consuming 35 percent less power.

Intel didn't plan for the chips to arrive so close together. Dempsey was held back by the new FB-DIMM memory system used in the "Bensley" server platform, but Woodcrest arrived a quarter early, Gelsinger said.

"We were a couple months late on Bensley," Gelsinger said. "It was not a big slip, but it was a couple months later than we hoped a year or a year and a half ago, and Woodcrest was pulled in a quarter, so the gap between them got smaller."

Even if the two chips had been farther apart, Intel would still have expected the same marketing challenge and would have handled it the same way, Gelsinger added. "I don't think there was any fundamental difference in the way we would have dealt with the products."

Tigerton and Clovertown use dual Woodcrest cores, said Lisa Graff, general manager of server platform management, and Kentsfield uses dual "Conroe" desktop PC cores. The Tigerton models are more rigorously qualified, she added.