February 8, 2005 1:40 PM PST
Intel expanding 64-bit Xeon family
Two versions of Xeon, code-named "Potomac" and "Cranford," are scheduled to arrive in systems in the next 90 days, Phil Brace, director of marketing for Intel's Digital Enterprise Group, said in a Tuesday interview.
Intel first released the 64-bit feature, which vastly increases the amount of memory a server can use, in the "Nocona" Xeon model for dual-processor servers in 2004. But four-processor servers are more likely to run into the 4GB memory barrier of 32-bit processors.
Rival Advanced Micro Devices beat Intel to the punch for 64-bit x86 chips. Intel still is the x86 server market leader, however, and by the end of February, the company will have shipped more than 2 million 64-bit x86 chips, Brace said.
Intel's 64-bit chips also are vastly more popular than the company's higher-end 64-bit processor family, Itanium, which requires software to be revamped to run well. Intel debuted the Itanium family in 2001, but sold fewer than 200,000 of the chips in 2004.
The processors are designed for four-processor servers, with Potomac geared for high-end work and Cranford for lower-priced machines. One major difference will be in the amount of high-speed cache memory; Potomac will include 8MB--an all-time high for Xeon processors--but Cranbrook will employ less, Brace said.
Also Tuesday, Intel announced that in the next two weeks it will release a new Xeon for dual-processor servers and a new Pentium with 64-bit features.
The Potomac and Cranford processors are at the heart of a new "platform" at Intel that also includes the new 8500 chipset--the supporting chips that handle communications with memory, network and the input-output subsystem. The 8500 is been code-named Twin Castle.
Intel reorganized earlier this year in a move to tightly synchronize engineering and marketing for processors and chipsets, taking a page from its Centrino playbook for laptop computers. "We cannot deliver this technology piecemeal," Brace said.
The 8500-based systems will introduce technology for the crucial 2006 transition to dual-core chips. For the first time, there will be two data pathways called front-side buses that connect the processor to the rest of the system.
"As dual-core capabilities come into the market, this platform has been architected to take advantage of that," Brace said.
Dual-core processors boost performance by combining two processing engines on a single slice of silicon. Though Intel will release dual-core desktop and notebook PCs this year, the dual-core Xeons aren't slated to arrive until early 2006.
Also coming with the 8500 will be double data rate 2 (DDR2) memory, which is a smidgen faster but much more energy-efficient than the current DDR1; PCI Express input-output systems, which is faster than existing PCI connections; demand-based switching to lower processor speed and power consumption during idle moments; and memory reliability improvements; and technology to correct errors in data transferred within the system. The front-side bus will run at 667MHz compared to the current 400MHz speed, Brace said.
Later this month, Intel will also launch a new family of 64-bit capable Pentium 4 processors for desktop PCs. The chips, part of Intel's new 600 series of Pentium 4 chips, will double current cache size to 2MB. In addition to the EM64T 64-bit extensions, Intel also fitted the Pentium 4 600 family with enhanced SpeedStep power management technology to reduce speed and power consumption, and with NX or no-execute support to help resist viruses and worms.
The extra cache, and especially the 64-bit capabilities, promise more performance for PCs running multimedia and some other types of applications now and in the future, said Rob Crooke, vice president of Intel's Digital Enterprise Group. The chips will fit into manufacturers' existing PC lines, but are likely to come out first in their priciest, top-of-the-line models.
CNET News.com's John Spooner contributed to this report.