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Potential bug clouds Xeon release

Workstation and server makers prepare to introduce lines based on Intel's new chip--but a potential bug may put off four-way servers.

Corporate computer manufacturers will join Intel Monday to announce new lines based on the Xeon processor, though a potential bug may put off four-processor Xeon servers.

Built around a Pentium II core, Intel's newest chip for workstations and servers contains more performance-enhancing secondary cache memory than standard Pentium II chips. The first Xeon chips will run at 400 MHz and come with 512K or 1MB of cache memory, while a 450-MHz version with up to 2MB of cache memory will follow in September.

Xeon chips will also enable "four-way" processing, a major improvement over the two-way processing limit on the Pentium II. However, a recently discovered bug may delay the release of four-way servers.

In trials, Xeon servers using four processors have occasionally frozen, according to sources in the computer vendor industry. The bug either lies in the Xeon Pentium II chip or the complementary 450NX chipset, sources said.

Intel has contacted computer makers about the problem but has not yet released a fix. The problem apparently does not occur with one- or two-way Xeon-based systems.

An Intel spokesman would not confirm the existence of any problem. If one exists, however, it will be publicly disclosed, along with a fix, once Xeon is released. (Intel is an investor in CNET: The Computer Network.)

The public introduction of the chip and new computers using it will take place Monday at Intel headquarters in Santa Clara, California, at an event that sources said will mostly feature workstations.

Xeon workstations will cost around $5,000 and up, generally available in the first few weeks after the announcement. Servers are expected later.

Dell Computer will introduce its Precision 610 Workstation. The 610 will come with the 512K or 1MB processor, said Jeff Clarke, vice president and general manager of workstations at Dell.

The direct marketer will also use Xeon in only the high end of its PowerEdge server line, which is the 6100 series, said a Dell spokesman. These servers will be capable of running one, two, or four processors.

Compaq will announce new workstations, which will come out in a few weeks, while servers will follow by September, said sources close to the company.

IBM, meanwhile, will be detailing its server strategy at the event. The company will announce upgrades to its 5500 Netfinity servers, which use the Pentium II, as well as one-, two-, and four-way servers, said Randy Groves, vice president of Netfinity development.

IBM's one- and two-way servers will come out in the 5500 line, while the four-way servers will come out in the 7000 series, which is currently dominated by Pentium Pro servers. Although announced, the machines will not come for 60 to 90 days.

IBM workstations based around Xeon will be rolled out later this year, according to a spokesperson.

Hewlett-Packard will announce support for the Xeon chip, but not provide product information until later. Nonetheless, HP will roll out Kayak workstations in the coming weeks and follow the announcement with details on one-, two-, and four-way servers, sources close to HP said.

Gateway will provide details on its six-way Xeon server, based around technology it acquired with the purchase of Advanced Logic Research.