March 7, 2006 12:04 PM PST
Intel demonstrates quad-core PC, server
Pat Gelsinger, a senior vice president in Intel's Digital Enterprise Group, demonstrated the processors during a speech at the company's Intel Developer Forum here. Both chips are built using Intel's 65-nanometer manufacturing process and will ship in the first quarter of 2007, Intel representatives said.
The show comes as Intel faces market share losses to rival Advanced Micro Devices and financial troubles.
Mainstream x86 chips with dual-processing engines began coming to market in 2005 and are becoming widely used. Quad-core models are the next step and a further indication that Intel's effort to improve performance focuses more on adding more cores than on increasing a chip's clock speed.
One factor could affect the take-up of chips with four cores, however. Although servers often run software whose tasks are divided into multiple threads that can take advantage of multicore processors, PC software is not so amenable to the approach.
"Dual-core makes sense right away, because there's almost some back task that's executing while you're trying to do something else," said Roger Kay, president of analyst firm Endpoint Technologies Associates. But quad-core PCs initially will be "a niche, for sure," appealing only to power users with heavy-duty computing tasks such as digital rendering or computer-aided design, he said.
More interest is likely to come for Conroe, a dual-core processor for desktop PCs due in the second half of the year. "It delivers 40 percent more performance while taking 40 percent less power," compared with current Pentium chips, Gelsinger said.
It's not clear what approach Intel will take to achieving four cores, however. AMD's version will have all four processor cores integrated on a single slice of silicon. But Intel, in the past, has taken a less sophisticated approach that puts two separate cores into a single package that plugs into a processor socket. Using that measure, IBM's Power5+ server chip is already there with its Quad-Core Module option.
Dempsey and low-power Xeon
Gelsinger also showed two nearer-term server processors that both fit into the same "Bensley" platform that Clovertown eventually will fit into. The first, "Dempsey," is now in production and will ship this month, Gelsinger said. The second, "Woodcrest," uses a new processor design and is due in the third quarter, said Kirk Skaugen, general manager of Intel's Server Platforms Group.
Woodcrest had been scheduled for the fourth quarter, but Intel was able to pull in the schedule by one quarter, Skaugen said in an interview. It will run at 3GHz, while Dempsey will top out at 3.73GHz, the upper range of where Intel had hoped, he added. Those speeds, combined with Dempsey's 667MHz memory and Woodcrest's 1333MHz memory--and the sooner-than-planned arrival of virtualization technology--shows that Intel's engineers are getting things right.
"All that is an engineering execution proof point," a bullish Skaugen said. Though AMD has made gains, Intel's technology will prevail again: "We have leadership in performance and in performance per watt. That's what people care about. It'll be undisputed as we get into the Woodcrest timeframe."
Woodcrest will arrive on the heels of Dempsey, but Intel doesn't consider it a replacement. Instead, the company is likely to market both, Skaugen said: Dempsey for small businesses as primarily concerned with price and Woodcrest for big companies as primarily concerned with performance per watt.
Skaugen also said a low-voltage Xeon LV processor, "Sossaman," will ship next week. The dual-core processor is based on the newest Core Duo laptop chip and consumes 31 watts compared to more than 130 watts for regular Xeons.
IBM is using the Xeon LV in its BladeCenter servers, but its top rival in the x86 server market, Hewlett-Packard, is passing over Sossaman. "It's an old technology, based on the Lindenhurst chipset," used in the soon-to-be replaced fourth-generation ProLiant servers, HP spokesman Tim Kreuger said Tuesday.
Another reason HP isn't using it is that Sossaman lacks 64-bit support. "It's a very targeted product for a small part of market," he said.
Dempsey servers will ship in the latter half of the second quarter, but are due to be replaced almost immediately by the Woodcrest models that offer significant improvements in the key domain of lower power consumption.
"Intel does not really have a competitive product today" in the server market, Illuminata analyst Gordon Haff said. Intel apparently decided that "having a reasonable, if not industry-leading, processor like Dempsey was better than not having anything for three or four months."
But things look better with the next-generation processor core coming from Intel on which Woodcrest is based, Haff said. "Those do not appear to be cherry-picked numbers of some particular benchmark on a blue moon with a tailwind blowing," Haff said.
Dempsey includes support for Intel Virtualization Technology, which makes it easier to run multiple operating systems simultaneously and thereby to increase server efficiency. On Tuesday, Intel announced its specification for extending virtualization to a computer's input-output subsystem, a next step in making the technology useful. AMD announced its I/O virtualization specification in February.
Diane Greene, the president of leading virtual machine software company VMware, said the EMC subsidiary will support Intel's I/O virtualization in products in 2007.
Intel has had difficulties in the other half of its server chip line, Itanium, with a significant delay of the first dual-core model, "Montecito." The chip had been scheduled to arrive in 2005, but Intel in October delayed it until mid-2006. On Tuesday, Gelsinger said the processor will ship in the second quarter of the year.
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