August 15, 2005 9:56 AM PDT

Intel speeds dual-core Xeon debut

Intel plans to release its first dual-core server processors this year instead of next, and it will employ an unusual maneuver to catch up to rival Advanced Micro Devices in the key competitive area.

Intel's "Paxville" version of Xeon, designed for machines with four or more processor sockets, now is due in 2005. And in a novel move, Intel will also release a version of Paxville for lower-end dual-processor servers.

Paxville has dual processing engines, called cores, a technology that means a single chip can do much of the work that previously required two chips. AMD released its first dual-core Opteron processors in the first half of this year, including models for four-processor and the more widely used two-processor servers. Both companies sell dual-core processors for desktop computers.

Intel's Paxville move "is clearly a time-to-market vehicle, a reaction to at least the perception of success that AMD is enjoying with Opteron," said TechKnowledge Strategies analyst Mike Feibus. "I don't think it'll make a dent in Intel's overall sales. It's more for chest-thumping purposes."

Previously, Paxville was officially scheduled for release in the first half of 2006, though an Intel executive disclosed in March that it was expected in the very early part of the year and Intel Chief Executive Paul Otellini hinted at the dual-core speedup in July. Intel spokeswoman Erica Fields wouldn't comment on exactly how much sooner Paxville was expected, but said of the schedule, "It is a significant pull-in."

Dell will sell dual- and four-processor servers based on Paxville this year, spokesman David Lord said on Monday. Hewlett-Packard, which unlike Dell sells servers with AMD as well as Intel processors, also plans to support Intel's updated dual-core debut with dual- and four-processor machines by the end of 2005, spokesman Eric Krueger said.

IBM, which is trying to stand out from its competitors with high-end Intel-based servers, is keen to release its next-generation servers with the high-end Xeons. "IBM anxiously awaits the arrival of Intel's first generation 64-bit Xeon MP, dual-core processors," Jay Bretzmann, director of IBM's high-performance Intel server division, said in a statement.

The dual-processor version of Paxville won't replace what Intel expects to be the mainstream dual-core design for dual-processor servers. The mainstream part, code-named Dempsey, is due in 2006.

Dempsey, a more mainstream design, will be less expensive than the dual-core Paxville chips, Fields said, though she declined to disclose specific prices. The dual-core Paxville chips will run at 2.8GHz, come with 2MB of high-speed cache memory, a 800MHz front-side bus for communications with the rest of the system, and include the Hyperthreading feature for speeding execution of independent software tasks, Fields said.

The combination of Dempsey and a new chipset code-named Blackford make up the "Bensley" platform. Among Bensley features that Paxville-based systems lack is a faster fully buffered memory technology, called FB-DIMM, a faster communications bus speed and a faster overall processor speed.

Compared with the dual-core Paxville processor, "Dempsey is more elegantly designed," Feibus said.

Intel currently is developing 17 multi-core processor designs. The company expects more than 85 percent of its server processors to have two or more cores by the end of 2006. Xeon, like Intel's Pentium and AMD's Opteron and Athlon, is a member of the x86 chip family, but Intel expects to release a dual-core Itanium processor by the end of this year.

 

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