June 26, 2006 12:01 PM PDT

Intel: We're back

SAN FRANCISCO--Intel formally unveiled its Xeon 5100 series processors on Monday, releasing to customers one of its most anticipated and important products in recent years.

At a launch event here, Intel added little to the Xeon 5100 story that hasn't already been told. The chip, formerly known as Woodcrest, is based on a new microarchitecture that the company is counting on to improve the performance of its flagging server division.

"We're back. We're back to a position we're used to having," said Tom Kilroy, the general manager of Intel's Digital Enterprise Group.

Intel's server group hasn't been able to make such a claim in years. The Opteron processor has vaulted rival Advanced Micro Devices from the hinterlands of the server market to a more than 20 percent share, with its superior performance and power consumption.

Server partners lined up to support Intel's launch. They included all its major customers, such as Hewlett-Packard, IBM and Dell. Intel plans to make the transition to Woodcrest the fastest introduction of a new product in the company's history, Kilroy said, underscoring Intel's need for a competitive product.

Intel believes it has turned the tide on performance, citing 25 benchmarks where it holds a lead over AMD. The features of Intel's new Core microarchitecture, such as a larger and more sophisticated cache memory design and a faster connection to memory, are responsible for the boost in performance over Intel's older dual-core server processors, Kilroy said.

But Intel and AMD are also focusing on the somewhat fuzzy performance-per-watt metric, as they jostle to become known as the least electricity-hungry vendor. They have engaged in a battle of PowerPoint slides claiming superior energy efficiency, but now that Xeon 5100 series systems are available for customers to test in their own environments, a clearer picture should start to emerge.

"There should be a focus on energy efficiency, but it should not come at the expense of performance," Kilroy said.

Power consumption is extremely important to the developers at Pixar working on their next movie, said Greg Brandeau, the vice president of technology at the animation studio. Pixar compared preproduction servers using the Xeon 5100 processors with machines using older Intel products. It found it could provide the same level of computing power to its developers in one-third of the space needed to house the older servers, and with half as much power consumption, Brandeau said.

Pixar has both Opteron and Xeon processors in its server rooms, Brandeau said. The company uses an internal benchmark based on its Renderman technology to evaluate processor performance, adding the best-performing chip at the moment when it needs to increase computing capacity. Right now, Pixar is planning to purchase systems based on Woodcrest and Cloverton, a quad-core processor scheduled to emerge next year, he said.

Some server customers are also excited about the built-in hardware support for virtualization software that comes along with the Woodcrest processors, Kilroy said. Virtualization technology allows IT managers to run separate virtual environments on a single processor, eliminating the need for dedicated servers to run a particular application.

So, in addition to reducing their power bills, IT managers will be able to get rid of excess systems that take up time and space, said Nathan Brookwood, an analyst at Insight 64.

The average server's utilization rate is extremely low, somewhere around 13 percent. Servers based on Intel's older processors still consumed a great deal of power even when they were running at low utilization rates, he said. Virtualization technology will condense more applications onto a single server.

The question now for Intel is whether the new chips can help the company halt its market share losses at the hands of AMD.

"We know who we've lost, and we know why we lost it," Kilroy said in an interview after his presentation. "Eight out of 10 shipments are still Intel, despite the fact that we've been performance-challenged and performance-per-watt-challenged. Many customers are still buying, despite the fact we fell behind."

Intel is shipping several different versions of the Xeon 5100 processor, at clock speeds up to 3GHz. The most powerful chip consumes 85 watts of power, but others will use 65 watts of power, the company said in a release. A 40-watt version running at 2.33GHz is planned for the third quarter, Kilroy said.

See more CNET content tagged:
Intel Xeon, Pixar Animation Studios Inc., AMD Opteron, virtualization, power consumption

10 comments

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Competition...
is a thing of beauty! Capitolism works.
Posted by robot999 (109 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Indeed
I love the current AMD-Intel war. My last two chips were AMD, but it looks like Intel will be my next buy.
Posted by Andrew J Glina (1673 comments )
Link Flag
Competition...
is a thing of beauty! Capitolism works.
Posted by robot999 (109 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Indeed
I love the current AMD-Intel war. My last two chips were AMD, but it looks like Intel will be my next buy.
Posted by Andrew J Glina (1673 comments )
Link Flag
Saw the results and...
By all acounts, Intel wins the top performance benchmark test. There is some debate over using JRockit which is optimized for Intel Chips, version releases, etc. but Intel does win the benchmark test. One dissadvantage: the intel chip did not scale well beyond 2 processors, so don't expect to see any 4 or 8 proc servers. On another performace mark which has recently become a hot topic, the intel chip shows major improvement in the performance/power ratio... fairly matching AMD's chips.

I'm not partial to either company. I just want to see good chips. Over the years, intel has always pushed speed, speed, speed. Amd has always been a notch behind but were cheaper and placed more emphasis on making the cpu do more for the same clock cycles. Now that amd has had a good run recently, they are infused with capitol, the likes of which they've not seen. Intel, on the other hand, will still likely have to do some major layoffs, even with a new hot chip. Now that the two are on more equal footing, this shapes up to a nice contest. I think the better concept on cpu design will win in the long run... speed, speed, speed VS. do more with less clock cycles. What may decide that is running up against quantum barriers limiting just how fast intel and amd can run.
Posted by Seaspray0 (9714 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Saw the results and...
By all acounts, Intel wins the top performance benchmark test. There is some debate over using JRockit which is optimized for Intel Chips, version releases, etc. but Intel does win the benchmark test. One dissadvantage: the intel chip did not scale well beyond 2 processors, so don't expect to see any 4 or 8 proc servers. On another performace mark which has recently become a hot topic, the intel chip shows major improvement in the performance/power ratio... fairly matching AMD's chips.

I'm not partial to either company. I just want to see good chips. Over the years, intel has always pushed speed, speed, speed. Amd has always been a notch behind but were cheaper and placed more emphasis on making the cpu do more for the same clock cycles. Now that amd has had a good run recently, they are infused with capitol, the likes of which they've not seen. Intel, on the other hand, will still likely have to do some major layoffs, even with a new hot chip. Now that the two are on more equal footing, this shapes up to a nice contest. I think the better concept on cpu design will win in the long run... speed, speed, speed VS. do more with less clock cycles. What may decide that is running up against quantum barriers limiting just how fast intel and amd can run.
Posted by Seaspray0 (9714 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Capitalism good for the environment...
I look at all of the AMD and Intel claims and I wonder how all of a sudden 'Green is Good'. Between Hybrid cars and low-powered servers suddenly we're consuming less fossil fuels. I just hope that enough people by 'Green' servers to lower my gas prices.
Posted by yonah.wolf (11 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Capitalism good for the environment...
I look at all of the AMD and Intel claims and I wonder how all of a sudden 'Green is Good'. Between Hybrid cars and low-powered servers suddenly we're consuming less fossil fuels. I just hope that enough people by 'Green' servers to lower my gas prices.
Posted by yonah.wolf (11 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Guess what chip will be in the new Mac Pro.
What will the Apple haters say when the new Intel Mac towers are
announced next month with the Xeon 5100 inside. Nevermind that
the Macbook Pro is the best Windows or OS X Laptop period. I'm
sure the nay-sayers silence will be deafening. A server chip in a
desktop?

Also, don't forget that these machines will also be Windows Vista
Premium capable out of the box.
Posted by L-Fire (11 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Guess what chip will be in the new Mac Pro.
What will the Apple haters say when the new Intel Mac towers are
announced next month with the Xeon 5100 inside. Nevermind that
the Macbook Pro is the best Windows or OS X Laptop period. I'm
sure the nay-sayers silence will be deafening. A server chip in a
desktop?

Also, don't forget that these machines will also be Windows Vista
Premium capable out of the box.
Posted by L-Fire (11 comments )
Reply Link Flag
 

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