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Pentium II servers search for market

Want a Pentium II server? You might wait until next year.

Tech Industry
Intel's (INTC) Pentium II processor doesn't yet pass muster as the chip of choice for server computers, which form the backbone of a corporation's computer network.

Servers require not only a speedy chip, but a design which allows a chip to be readily strung together with a number of other processors to form a more powerful, single virtual computer.

In this respect, it won't be until 1998 that the Pentium II offers all the necessary technology to make it a more compelling option than the current Pentium Pro processor, despite the Pentium Pro's "older" design.

Currently, as many as four Pentium Pros--and up to eight in a few proprietary designs--can be strung together, but only a maximum of two Pentium IIs can.

In 1998, servers which can use eight processors are expected to proliferate, and versions of the Pentium II are expected at that time which can be designed into both four- and eight-processor machines.

But for now, the Pentium II is a rather lackluster chip for powerful, high-end servers. "At this point, I don't see any sense in the PII as a [high-end] server. As a midrange server, fine," according to Amir Ahari, an analyst at International Data Corporation.

Moreover, if the Pentium Pro and the Pentium II are compared at equivalent speeds, the Pentium Pro also offers a faster design than the Pentium II. This is because the Pentium Pro's cache memory runs as fast as the processor. The Pentium II's cache runs at only half the speed. Cache memory is critical for improving performance of the processor.

Intel says this is due to the fact that the high-speed cache memory chips it needs for the Pentium II are not available on the market today. Though Intel makes internally its own high-speed cache memory for the Pentium Pro, it is not doing this for the Pentium II.

Also, the Pentium II does not offer support for high-quality Error Checking and Correcting (ECC) memory, an important check-off item for servers. The Pentium Pro does.

Even as a midrange server, Pentium II processors may find a limited market initially, according to those who sell computers to that market.

"The only place you might see them is in manufacturing," said Mike Boyle, chief executive officer of ComputerLand of New Mexico. Boyle said the higher "clock" speed of the Pentium II processor might offer some advantages here. Though the Pentium II's design is not as suitable for servers as the Pentium Pro, Intel is promoting the Pentium II at higher, "raw" clock speeds. In server computers, the Pentium II offers speeds of 233 and 266 MHz, whereas the Pentium Pro tops off at 200 MHz.

Still, some Pentium II servers are already on the market--and more are on the way. IBM (IBM), Hewlett-Packard (HPW), Compaq (CPQ), and Intergraph, (INGR), among others, will come out with Pentium II servers in the third and fourth quarters, various sources said, following the lead of Advanced Logic Research and Dell Computer (Dell), which both recently introduced Pentium II servers.

ALR's Revolution 2X, released in May, can accept Pentium II or Pentium Pro processors. Starting at $2,195 for a server with a single 233-MHz Pentium II processor, the Revolution 2X comes with a variety of memory and hard drive configurations.

Dell's current offering is the PowerEdge 2200, a single processor Pentium II with a base configuration starting at around $3,220 and 32MB of memory and a 2GB hard disk drive. Dell officials have also said that the company will release the 4200, a dual-processor model, in the future.

Intergraph will release its first Pentium II servers in the early part of the fourth quarter, said Terence Finan, a company spokesman. All of Intergraph's PII servers will contain two processors.

Some vendors believe there is a viable market for these servers at the low end. Hewlett-Packard will come out with Pentium II severs by the fourth quarter of this year. "There's a real market for one-processor Pentium IIs. Small and medium sized customers will go for the [single-processor server]," said Michael Dam, product marketing manager for servers at HP.

On another front, companies such as IBM are also waiting for Intel to offer more advanced versions of the Pentium II processor for workstation computers, used in engineering, scientific, multimedia, and financial applications.

In addition to delivering more processor speed, IBM wants a chip that communicates at greater speed with the rest of the system and has access to larger amounts of memory. "Having a large memory is almost more important than having a fast processor," said Satish Gupta, general manager of IBM's professional workstations division. Currently the Pentium II can only access a maximum of 512 megabytes.

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