ServerWorks says Intel no competition

The manufacturer of chips that connect CPUs to everything else in a server faces its first real competition in years from Intel, but the company says Intel is no threat.

Stephen Shankland
Stephen Shankland principal writer
Stephen Shankland has been a reporter at CNET since 1998 and writes about processors, digital photography, AI, quantum computing, computer science, materials science, supercomputers, drones, browsers, 3D printing, USB, and new computing technology in general. He has a soft spot in his heart for standards groups and I/O interfaces. His first big scoop was about radioactive cat poop.
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ServerWorks, a Broadcom subsidiary that manufactures chips that connect CPUs to everything else in a server, faces its first real competition in years from Intel, but the company says Intel is no threat.

ServerWorks is both a competitor and a partner with Intel. On the one hand, ServerWorks' chipsets compete with Intel's own designs. But on the other hand, ServerWorks' mission is to enable better Intel servers, and selling CPUs is more important to Intel than selling chipsets.

Compaq, IBM, Hewlett-Packard and Dell have shown a preference for ServerWorks, which is used in two- and four-processor servers--the segment of the Intel server market where sales volumes are highest, where ServerWorks focuses.

But after years of ceding most of the server market to ServerWorks, Intel's coming Plumas chip will once again provide some competition. Among the chip's features will be high-speed InfiniBand connections, Intel spokesman Otto Pipjker said.

ServerWorks Chief Executive Raju Vegesna, though, predicted ServerWorks still would dominate among the top server players. "There are no major OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) adopting Plumas," he said.

Intel wouldn't comment on Plumas customers because the chip hasn't yet been launched. Compaq, with the largest presence in the Intel server market, didn't comment on what it planned to use for later systems. But one source said Plumas will appear in top-tier server company designs.

Intel's high-end Xeon chips are a key part of its effort to sell more powerful and more profitable CPUs for servers, the high-end computers that handle tasks such as e-mail or corporate accounting. The Xeon line has been making the transition from its Pentium III foundation to the newer Pentium 4 line.

Intel introduced a 2GHz Xeon chip for workstations. Xeon servers will have to wait for a new version of the Xeon chip code-named "Prestonia," which will offer more high-speed "cache" memory, higher 2.2GHz clock speeds and smaller 130-nanometer (0.13 micron) features.

The first Xeon chips are code-named "Foster," using a 180-nanometer process and incorporating 256K of cache. But while two-processor Foster chips won't be used in servers, Fosters will be used in systems with four or more CPUs.

In addition, a follow-on to this multiprocessor version of Foster is called "Gallatin" and will incorporate the larger cache and smaller process size of Prestonia.

ServerWorks is starting to see its first products that benefit from the fact that it's a subsidiary of communications chipmaker Broadcom, Vegesna said. Products coming in the first quarter of 2001 will include on-board networking abilities and a memory communication that benefits from Broadcom's expertise in different types of data traffic.