Intel's new dual-core Xeon targets four-chip servers

Intel has released dual-core Xeon chips for four-processor servers, and server vendors were quick to support the latest chips.

Intel has now brought dual-core technology into all of its Xeon processors for low-end servers with the launch of four new Xeon 7000 series chips.

Intel was joined by perennial partners Dell and Microsoft in detailing the results of Intel plans to accelerate the introduction of its first dual-core Xeon processors. The chip company launched its first dual-core Xeon processor for two-chip servers last month and now offers dual-core processors across all of its x86 server products.

Dual-core processors are the chip industry's answer to the problems caused by excessive heat given off by fast single-core processors built with today's generation of leaky transistors. A dual-core chip contains two separate CPUs on a single piece of silicon, which allows chip designers to improve performance despite lowering the clock speed of those chips.

Intel's dual-core Xeon chips were originally expected to launch in the first quarter of next year. However, Intel moved up the launch date partly because the chips were ready earlier than expected after the company rapidly developed the dual-core desktop processor that serves as a blueprint for the Xeon 7000 chips, and partly in response to competitive pressures from AMD's dual-core Opteron processors, which have been available since April.

Intel has included hardware support for virtualisation technology into the Xeon 7000 processors, but that capability wouldn't be available until next year as part of a BIOS upgrade, general manager of Intel's server platforms groups, Kirk Skaugen, said.

The company has been actively promoting its VT technology, which will improve the performance of virtualisation software on these servers.

IBM's new xSeries 460 servers will use the Xeon 7000 series processors. Its servers use a unique chipset developed by the company called X3. This chipset allows IBM to reduce the latency in moving data from the processor to memory, a drawback of Intel's current processor and chipset designs.

Intel is still reliant on a front-side bus and external memory controller to coordinate the movement of data from the processor to memory, a key link in system performance. In this setup, two or more processors must share a single connection to the rest of the chipset, and the memory controller sits outside the processor.

AMD, on the other hand, has integrated the memory controller directly onto its dual-core Opteron processors and allows each processor to connect directly to the chipset. This means the memory controller can run at the same speed as the processor, and each processor does not have to compete for bandwidth over a shared connection.

"The X3 mitigates the performance deficiencies of the Intel processors," principal analyst with Illuminata, Gordon Haff, said. There isn't enough data to compare the X3 servers to four-processor Opteron servers, but the X3 chipset gives IBM an edge over Dell and HP in approaching the Opteron servers, he said.

HP planned to support the new Xeon 7000 processors in its existing DL580 and ML570 ProLiant servers starting next week, a company spokesperson said.

HP is in a unique position among server vendors in that it supports both Opteron and Xeon on an almost equal basis.

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