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Intel sharpens blade-server chip line

The chipmaker is set to introduce a new low-power Pentium III chip for dense blade servers that will let computer makers put two processors onto a single blade.

John G. Spooner Staff Writer, CNET News.com
John Spooner
covers the PC market, chips and automotive technology.
John G. Spooner
3 min read
Intel is slinging new chips for blade servers.

The chipmaker will introduce on Tuesday a new low-power Pentium III chip for dense blade servers that will let computer makers put two processors onto a single blade. To date, Intel has marketed chips only for single-processor blades.

The new chip, the second of two planned low-power processors for blade servers, essentially rounds out Intel's product line. The chipmaker's first server blade chip, a 700MHz ultralow-voltage Pentium III, launched last November. The new chip runs at 800MHz and will be available in dual-processor server blade products due later this year from Dell Computer and Fujitsu-Siemens, Intel said.

"We've got the product line across the board now that the blade market is looking for," said Lisa Hambrick, director of enterprise-processor marketing in Intel's Enterprise Processor Group.

Server blades got their name because of their design--they typically resemble a circuit board more than anything else. They're made to be stacked vertically. These types of servers are growing in popularity for mundane tasks such as delivering Web pages or housing protective firewalls because they use less floor space and electricity than racks of traditional servers.

Server blades also share a power supply, cables and memory, which further cuts down on costs and space. Although the slumping server market has dampened sales, analysts believe blades will eventually form a substantial part of the market.

As their name suggests, blades with ultralow-voltage processors are the smallest and least power hungry of the bunch. Typically, a 6-foot-tall rack can accommodate up to forty-two 1.75-inch thick servers. Some blade-server cabinets with ultralow-voltage processors can fit 100 or more servers in the same size rack.

While the new chips consume more power, they provide enhanced performance features. Aside from its dual-processor capabilities and faster clock speed, the new 800MHz server blade chip offers a faster 133MHz system bus and supports a larger amount of faster memory, compared with Intel's current low-voltage server blade chip. The new chip can support up to 4GB of PC 133 memory, otherwise known as SDRAM (synchronous dynamic RAM), which is the most common DRAM type available today. The other chips could handle only 2GB of memory at a time.

The new chip also consumes less power than a typical Pentium III or Xeon server chip would--about 11.2 watts--allowing PC makers to create a dual-processor server blade that uses less power and produces less heat.

Some of the first ultradense blade server makers used Transmeta's Crusoe chip, which consumed less power than Intel's 700MHz Pentium III chip for blades.

However, the chips did not offer dual-processor support or certain features generally expected of servers, such as error-correcting code memory. Corporate IT buyers also balked at buying servers based around a new chip in an era of tighter budgets, according to executives at server companies promoting Transmeta-based servers. As a result, vendors such as RLX Technologies--Transmeta's original blade customer--have begun offering products based on Intel chips as well.

Meanwhile, Sun Microsystems is also expected to launch a pair of blade-server lines, one based on Intel's chips and another on its own UltraSparc processor.

Both Hewlett-Packard and Compaq Computer offer server blades based on Intel's 700MHz blade-server chip. PC makers such as Dell Computer are expected to adopt the chip in products that will begin shipping in the next two to three months, Intel said.

The new 800MHz chip, which uses ServerWorks' LE3 chipset, will list for $289 each in 1,000 unit quantities.