Vendors roll out servers with faster Xeon

Intel Tuesday announced an updated Xeon processor for multiprocessor servers that is designed for transaction-heavy workloads and consolidation efforts. Dell and Hewlett-Packard also began shipping systems based on the new chip Tuesday.

Last updated in mid-2004, the Xeon MP processor's speed is being increased from 2.8 GHz to 3.0 GHz. It also is doubling the L3 cache to 4M bytes.

The increase in on-chip cache is significant because it will help reduce the strain on a system's memory, says Gordon Haff, an analyst with Illuminata Inc.

"Cache tends to be particularly important in commercial transaction-processing systems as well as in larger systems in general," he says. "Typically, the larger the system, the more important the cache becomes, because larger caches mean that a given processor doesn't hit the memory system as hard."

Intel says systems vendors - including Unisys, Dell, HP and IBM - will roll out systems ranging from four to 32 processors based on the chip this year. On Tuesday, Dell said it is currently shipping PowerEdge 6650 and 6600 four-way servers with the updated Xeon. Pricing starts at just under US$7,500 for a system with a single 3-GHz Xeon MP, a spokesman says.

HP also is shipping updated multiprocessor systems with the new chip. They include the four-processor ML570, DL560 and DL580 and the eight-processor DL740 and DL760.

During a conference call announcing the new chip, Jeremy Lehman, senior vice president of technology at Thomson Financial, joined Intel executives to talk about the benefits of running highly demanding applications, such as database systems and Web applications on Xeon.

Lehman says he scrapped high-end Sun Microsystems Inc. SPARC boxes for Unisys systems running Xeon and Itanium. Lehman praised the speed and reliability of the systems and said the flexibility inherent in running industry-standard systems was a key reason for migrating to Intel-based servers.

"We're not limited by operating systems, we're not limited by constraints of finding people with the right skills, we're not limited by having a lot of our capital tied up in expensive systems, we're not limited in OEM providers that can take the silicon and turn it into a server," he says.

At its Developer Forum last month, Intel announced that it would update its Xeon chips with 64-bit extensions in order to enable servers to run 32- and 64-bit application simultaneously, providing an alternative to the 32-/64-bit Opteron offered by Advanced Micro Devices. This Xeon update, however, doesn't include the technology, which is expected to come in MP processors in early 2005. Intel says that a 32-/64-bit chip for low-end servers and workstations, code-named Nocona, will be available this summer.

The new Xeon MP "provides a speed and cache bump and is being rolled out at the same price point as previous chips," says Haff. "Server vendors will roll these processors into their products, and it will increase the price/performance of the underlying systems."

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