Intel, AMD don gloves again

Intel Corp. and Advanced Micro Devices Inc. (AMD), widely recognized as the two leading heavyweights in the microprocessor market, went another round this week as both chip makers rolled out new products ultimately designed to lure customers over to their individual processor platforms.

Against the scenic backdrop of the CeBIT trade show in Hannover, Germany, Intel introduced its much-anticipated Intel Xeon MP (multiprocessor) chips, designed for servers running four or more processors.

Figuratively nose-to-nose with Intel in Hannover, AMD announced three new microprocessors designed to boost performance in mobile, desktop, workstation, and server systems. The new chips include AMD's Athlon XP 2100+ for desktop PCs, Mobile Athlon 4 1600+ for notebooks, and Athlon MP 2000+ for servers and workstations.

While these later rounds between Intel and AMD lack the pure drama of the now legendary 1999 speed race between Intel and AMD to see who would be the first to take their desktop chips to 1GHz, this week's chip launches show the two companies remain fierce competitors.

"The big picture is that the competition between Intel and AMD continues. Both are maintaining competitive product development and introduction cycles," explained Dean McCarron, the president of Mercury Research, in Scottsdale, Ariz.

Designed for desktop PCs, AMD's XP 2100+ chip reaches speeds of 1.73GHz. For mobile devices such as laptop computers, the new Mobile Athlon 4 1600+ is available running at 1.4GHz. The Athon MP 2000+ for workstations and servers climbs to 1.67GHz. Pricing in lots of 1000 units starts at US$420, $380, $415, respectively.

Hardware manufacturers are keeping pace with AMD by releasing systems based on these new chips almost simultaneously. Compaq, Fujitsu-Siemens Computers, and NEC desktop PCs are available now with the XP 2100+ chip; Racksaver and Boxx Technologies are currently delivering systems with the Athlon MP 2000+; and Compaq is now taking orders for notebooks with the Athlon 4 1600+, with retail availability to follow shortly, according to officials for Sunnyvale, Calif.-based AMD.

This vendor support, while not unusual for AMD, shows some early acceptance for the new processors.

"It's showing that they continue to come out with new products and OEMs are using the chip as well, they're not just throwing the part out there," said McCarron.

AMD's new chips will compete with rival Intel's Pentium 4 desktop processor and Pentium III-M and Celeron processors.

Intel launched three versions of its Xeon MP chip. The chips were introduced at clock speeds of 1.4GHz, 1.5GHz, and 1.6GHz. The chips feature three levels of integrated cache memory, adding up to 1MB of Level 3 cache to 8KB of Level 1 and 256KB of Level 2 cache, according to Intel, in Santa Clara, Calif.

The 1.4GHz and 1.5GHz Xeon MP processors each have 512KB of Level 3 cache and cost $1,177 and $1,980 respectively, in 1,000-unit quantities. The 1.6GHz Xeon MP has 1MB of Level 3 cache and is priced at $3,692 in 1,000-unit quantities.

Greater amounts of onboard memory get important data closer to the core of the chip, improving computational performance and permitting the processor to run more complicated programs, said Nathan Brookwood, a principal analyst for the Insight 64 technology market research firm in Saratoga, Calif.

Intel "currently dominates the market for low-end entry level servers that are using the Pentium III and Pentium III Xeon processors," Brookwood said.

Vendors such as IBM and Hewlett-Packard (HP) each put their separate muscle behind the introduction of the Intel chips with new Xeon MP-based products.

IBM rolled out a Xeon MP-based server called the eServer x440. Introduced as a 4-way or 8-way server, the x440 will eventually support 16 processors within a single unit, said Tom Bradicich, a distinguished engineer for IBM in Armonk, N.Y.

The x440 is capable of running a variety of data-intensive applications from standalone database programs to multiple applications running simultaneously across partitioned processors. IBM is pitching the new x440 to companies needed a "big iron" multi-processor server as well as companies looking to consolidate multiple smaller servers into a single system such as the x440.

IBM has billed the x440 as a 16-way server, but until July 2002 the x440 will only be available running up to eight processors at a time, according to IBM. This disappoints experts like Joseph Zhou, a senior analyst at D.H. Brown and Associates, in Port Chester, N.Y., who praises IBM for being first to market with an 8-way Xeon-based server for the mid-range market, but expected more from IBM with this first Xeon MP-based product launch.

"In this release, the x440 only goes up to 8-ways in single node configuration, and that is not what the industry expected," said Zhou. "We expected more scaleable configurations up to 16-way." Zhou added that IBM's Enterprise X chip set architecture was "supposed to scale up to 16-ways."

An 8-way x440 with 16GB of SDRAM starts for just less than $50,000. A 2-way x440 can be had as low as $18,000, according to IBM.

HP unveiled six new Intel-based servers in a major refresh of the company's 32-bit server line.

Included in the HP lineup, a new tc2110 server designed for small businesses running small applications like e-mail serving, which starts at $1,079. An HP tc3100 targeted at small to midsize businesses for $1,499. And an HP tc4100 for corporate workgroups and remote offices needing to run applications like file and print, and messaging, which starts at $2,599.

An HP tc6100 server for corporate departmental tasks such as accounting and finance was also launch at a price of $4,399. An HP tc7100 for large applications, database platforms, and messaging systems for the enterprise, starting at $7,149. For enterprise data centers, heavy messaging tasks, database applications, and ERP, an HP rc7100 arrives at a sticker price of $8,469.

The HP tc2110, tc3100, and tc4100 will each begin shipping in mid-April. The other servers will begin shipping in mid-May, according to HP representatives in Palo Alto, Calif.

Unisys unleashed a new Xeon-based ES-7000/200 server. In the market for nearly two years, the ES-7000 was the first, and remains the only Intel-based server in the world that can run a Windows OS across thirty-two processors within a single server.

The ES-7000/200 packs the latest Xeon MP chips from Intel, running at either 1.4GHz or 1.6GHz. Additionally, the ES-7000/200 is capable of running both 32-bit Xeon chips and 64-bit Intel Itanium-class chips side by side in the same server, partitioning 64-bit applications onto 64-bit chips and running 32-bit applications across a combination of the processors.

Available in April of 2002, the ES-7000/200 starts between $100,000 and $1 million, depending on configuration, according to Unisys.

Xeon's extensive roll out in server vendor systems plays right to Intel's strategy, explained McCarron.

"With respect to the Xeon MP, it's part of Intel's top-to-bottom server strategy," said McCarron. "While most server volume is uniprocessor, it's necessary to be able to support [multi-way] servers in order to get higher up into the IT server food chain, and that's what Xeon MP is about, maintaining Intel's server business in all segments."

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