Intel releases next generation Xeon

As expected, Intel on Monday unveiled the next generation of its Xeon processor, which will be the company's first chip to include the Extended Memory 64 Technology (EM64T) that allows the processor to run both 64-bit and 32-bit software.

The microprocessor vendor also released a chipset for workstations based on the new Xeon processor, called the E7525, that includes a faster 800MHz system bus, DDR2 (double data rate) memory, as well as Intel's next-generation PCI (Peripheral Component Interface) Express interconnect.

The new Xeon, which had been code-named Nocona, comes more than a year after Intel's rival, Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) released its Opteron processor, which takes the similar approach of extending Intel's 32-bit x86 processor instructions so they can handle 64-bit computing.

Though Opteron and Nocona are expected to run the same software, they have significant differences, said Richard Dracott, general manager for Intel's enterprise platform marketing and planning group. "We have taken a different approach to how we balance the system overall," he said. "We chose to go with a faster front side bus, faster subsystem, and PCI Express."

Intel, for example, does not support AMD's 3DNow graphics instructions, he said.

Nocona and Opteron systems will have different designs and use different chipsets, but for most users, the difference between the two processors will not be visible, said Jim Turley, a microprocessor analyst based in California. "It still looks like a PC, smells like a PC and feels like a PC," he said. "The battle now is what sort of brand and reputation do these companies have."

The Linux operating system already supports the 64-bit extensions used by Nocona and Opteron, but Microsoft support will not occur until the company ships new service pack releases of Windows XP and Windows Server 2003, which are both expected by year's end.

Intel's x86 processors and chipsets will gradually adopt the new 64-bit extensions over the next few years, with the majority of x86 workstation and server systems supporting the technology by 2005 and the majority of all Intel systems, including desktops and notebooks, shipping with the extensions by 2006, Dracott said.

A Nocona chipset designed for servers, called the E7320, will become available by the end of August, Intel said. At the same time, the company will release a new version of its Pentium processor, code-named Prescott, that will support the EM64T 64-bit extensions, the company said.

This will be followed in early 2005 by a new EM64T version of the Xeon MP processors, which are designed for 4-way and 8-way systems.

Monday's news was accompanied by announcements from a number of hardware vendors, including Dell and Hewlett-Packard detailing plans to release EM64T workstations with as much as 16G bytes of memory. Workstation users such as digital content creators and computer-aided design engineers are among the relatively few groups of users who are working on applications that are bumping up against the 4G-byte addressable memory limit of 32-bit processors.

"We know that 4 gigabytes of memory is just not enough," said Joe Bentivegna, vice president of video development and operations for digital content software vendor Avid Technology Inc. Because the EM64T workstations will let digital authors process a much larger amount of data directly in memory, the processors should have an effect in the high end of Avid's video and 3D animation business, he said.

The new EM64T chips have clock speeds ranging from 2.8GHz to 3.6GHz, and range in price from US$209 (AU$299) to US$851 (AU$1,216) per processor, in quantities of 1,000. The E7525 chipset is priced at US$100 (AU$143) per unit, in quantities of 1,000, Intel said.

HP's xw6200 and xw8200 are available immediately with the 2.8GHz Xeon processor, and cost US$1,399 (AU$2,028) and US$1,799 (AU$2,607), respectively. Dell's new Precision 470 and Precision 670 also come with the 2.8GHz Xeon in their base configurations. They cost $1,399 (AU$2,028) and $1,699 (AU$2,461), respectively.

The new workstations come with either Microsoft's 32-bit Windows XP operating system or Red Hat Inc.'s 64-bit Enterprise Linux WS 3.0 operating system.

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