Intel may release new Xeon processor in 2004

Intel Corp. appears to be readying a new Xeon processor code-named Potomac that should arrive in late 2004.

The Potomac processor was shown as the follow-on to Intel's current Xeon processor code-named Gallatin in a Hewlett-Packard Co. presentation posted on an Australian HP user Web site called OZTUG.org. While the presentation showed Potomac arriving in late 2003, an analyst and researcher at IBM Corp. said that late 2004 would be a more likely release date for the chip. Potomac will be the next chip in the Xeon MP family, which is used in servers with four or more processors.

An Intel spokesman declined to comment on unannounced products.

The Xeon processors usually have similar speeds to Intel's Pentium 4 desktop chips but include some higher end features such as larger caches that make them more suitable for use in servers. Intel also offers the 64-bit Itanium processor to server makers, although the 32-bit Xeon processor is more widely used at this time.

Analysts were reluctant to speculate on what features Potomac may have but said Intel could prepare a surprise or two by 2004.

Over the course of this year, Intel is expected to increase the cache sizes on its Xeon chip and push up the chip's speed, said Dean McCarron, principal analyst at Mercury Research Inc. in Cave Creek, Arizona. In 2004, however, Intel will be able to take advantage of a new .09-micron manufacturing process, which helps shrink the size of the chip's circuitry and which could open the door for dual-core Xeon chips.

A dual-core chip has two physical processor cores on the same piece of silicon, which makes one chip work almost as effectively as two.

"Intel is looking at multicore technology," said Kevin Krewell, senior editor of the Microprocessor Report in San Jose. "There is more mainstream software out there now that can make use of SMP (symmetric multiprocessing) in dual-core chips."

Intel could also decide to make Potomac its first Xeon chip to support both 32-bit and 64-bit instructions for its x86 architecture, Krewell said. Such a move would mimic Advanced Micro Devices Inc. (AMD), which will release the Opteron processor this year to give customers both a 32-bit and 64-bit option for lower-end servers"I do think that Intel, at some point in time, needs to expand Xeon beyond the 32-bit architecture," Krewell said.

Intel has been rumored to be working on a similar chip to Opteron, but Krewell, like a number of industry sources, speculated that Intel dropped this project due to Microsoft Corp.'s support for AMD's 64-bit processor design. Microsoft was reluctant to support two of the so-called x86-64 architectures and sided with AMD instead of Intel, the sources said.

"AMD has staked the first claim and is much more committed to that type of architecture than Intel," Krewell said. "Eventually, I think Intel will have to say there is a future of the Xeon family that will have 64-bit extensions."

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