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Intel set to expand server offers

The company plans to come out with server chips tailored for every taste and budget in 2003, in a bid to take market share from other chipmakers such as Sun Microsystems and IBM.

SAN JOSE, Calif.--Intel plans to come out with server chips tailored for every taste and budget in 2003, as part of its effort to take more market share from other chipmakers such as Sun Microsystems and IBM.

For example, the Santa Clara, Calif.-based company is set to increase the processor speed, bus speed and cache size of its existing Xeon processors for servers and workstations during the course of the year. It also is readying entirely new chips, called Nocona and Potomac, based on a chip design that will also be shared by desktop chip Prescott, due out in the middle of the year.

Nocona is scheduled to arrive late this year or early next year, and Potomac in 2004.

This summer, the company plans to release Madison, the next version of the Itanium 2 chip. It will follow that release in the second half of the year with Deerfield, an energy-efficient and comparatively inexpensive version of Itanium 2 for blade and rack servers.

The server onslaught comes during what could be a historic year for the server market. Although more servers containing Intel chips are shipped each year than servers containing RISC (reduced instruction set computing) chips, RISC-based servers have always accounted for more revenue. This year, however, research firm Gartner has predicted that revenue from Intel-based servers could pass the 50 percent mark.

To help prove that prediction correct, Intel is looking at ways to put its manufacturing muscle to good effect, said Lisa Graff, the company's director of enterprise processor marketing. One example: In the third quarter, the company will come out with a Xeon for one- and two-processor servers containing 1MB of cache (a pool of data in the processor designed to allow rapid data access). The product had been scheduled for next year.

"We have a lot of flexibility to accelerate our road map," Graff said. For some applications, she added, "cache has a bigger impact than clock speed."

The company will also continue trying to persuade RISC makers to adopt its chips. "We've been trying to get design wins at Sun for 20 years," said Intel CEO Craig Barrett.

How and where these chips eventually get introduced largely depends upon circumstances, Graff said. Intel's most popular server chip family remains the Xeon line, which is based on essentially the same architecture as the Pentium 4 desktop line. Xeon servers are being purchased to handle a wide variety of functions. Pixar Animation Studios, for instance, recently replaced its Sun servers with eight Xeon blade servers from RackSaver.

Itanium has proved to be less popular with buyers, but momentum is growing, Graff said, in part because of strong benchmark scores. "We're way ahead of the RISC guys" on benchmarks, she said.

Corporate customers with customized applications that need to replace aging RISC systems are increasingly looking at Itanium, analysts say.

"We expect to see that there was an uptick in volume shipments of Itanium in the fourth quarter," said Jean Bozman, research analyst at IDC.

Deerfield is expected to expand the opportunity for Itanium. Right now, a substantial number of Itanium chips are sold into fairly expensive servers that cost $10,000 or more. Deerfield will be aimed at servers that cost $5,000 to $7,000.

Other highlights from Intel's product plans:

• One- and two-processor systems: The company will release a Xeon with a 533MHz bus and 512KB cache in the first half. Current Xeons in this class come with a 400MHz bus. In the second half, the cache will be boosted to 1MB. "Canterwood," a chipset for these servers, will debut in the middle of the year.

By the end of the year or in early 2004, Intel will come out with Nocona, a new chip based on the same design as Prescott. Nocona will be made on the 90-nanometer manufacturing process and run at a faster clock speed, but contain the same level of cache. Nocona may also come with LaGrande, a security technology inside Prescott for preventing outsiders from snooping in hard drives.

A chipset code-named Lindenhurst will accompany Nocona.

• Multiprocessor servers: Gallatin, a Xeon for four- and eight-processor servers that comes with 2MB of cache and runs at 2GHz, came out at the end of last year. In 2003, the company will speed the chip past 2GHz. Late this year or early next year, it will then release a version of Gallatin with 4MB of cache.

Later in 2004, the company will follow up with Potomac, a version of Nocona for four-processor servers, as well as a corresponding chipset code-named Twin Castle.

• Itanium: The showcase version of Madison, which comes out this summer, will run at 1.5GHz and come with 6MB of level three cache. Less-expensive versions will come with 4MB or 3MB of cache and run at slower speeds. Madison will be marketed under the Itanium 2 name.

In the second half of the year, Intel will follow up with Deerfield. Officially called LV Itanium 2, the chip will run at 1GHz and contain only 1.5MB of cache. The lower clock speed and smaller cache, however, will let the chip run on far less energy. At a maximum, Deerfield will consume 62 watts of power, compared with current Itanium 2 chips, which take 130 watts. Overall, the chip is expected to perform about as well as current Itanium 2 chips.

Along with making server chips, Intel will also manufacture Itanium 2 servers to help jump-start the market. Companies such as Dell Computer, China's Legend and Kraftway (Russia's leading PC maker) already sell Intel-manufactured Itanium servers. A two-processor server based on Madison will come out at the same time as that chip, Graff said.