Intel releases more chip details

Intel offered more details yesterday about its Itanium processor family as well as its forthcoming mobile technologies.

Intel offered more details yesterday about its Itanium processor family as well as its forthcoming mobile technologies.

The Nocona Xeon processor will debut at 3.6GHz in the second quarter with support for 64-bit extensions technology, said Mike Fister, senior vice president and general manager of Intel's enterprise platforms group. 

It will also come with 1Mbyte of Level 2 cache, an 800MHz front-side bus and will support three different operating modes: pure 32-bit mode, a combination 64-bit/32-bit mode, and a pure 64-bit mode.

The Xeon MP server processor line will also receive the extensions technology enhancement next year, as it will take more time to validate the new technologies with large, multiprocessor servers, he said.

Intel embedded the extensions technology into the Prescott core recently released as the newest Pentium 4 desktop processor, and can turn it on when it feels the market is ready, said Ajay Malhotra, general manager of enterprise marketing at Intel.

Prescott-based processors with the extensions technology will be released later this year for workstations and single-processor servers, but Intel did not disclose the brand identities of those chips. Server and workstation processors are the sole focus of the extensions technology for now, Malhotra said.

Intel also released a 3.2GHz Xeon processor with 2Mbytes of cache. Older Xeon processors had just 1Mbyte of cache.

Two new Itanium processors designed for two-way servers will ship this year with 3Mbytes of cache at 1.4GHz and 1.6GHz. This line of dual-processor Itanium chips will continue into the future with the Millington processor in 2005, and the multicore Dinoma processor will be released some time after Millington.

The standard Itanium processor for multiprocessor servers will have two cores in 2005 with the introduction of Montecito. Fister revealed a few details about the Bayshore chipset that will come with Montecito. Bayshore makes use of a faster front-side bus, double data rate memory, and PCI Express.

Montecito will also come with two new technologies. Pellston is the code name for new cache reliability technology, and Foxton represents the multicore, multithreaded approach Intel is taking to improve performance.

Pellston allows the chip to detect errors in the cache memory banks and shut down the problematic parts of the cache before they can cause problems. Foxton is a method of temporarily boosting the clock speed of a multicore processor to take advantage of unused execution units.

Further down the road, Intel will make the platform costs of Xeon and Itanium identical. That means that after purchasing the chip, it will cost a server supplier the same amount of money to build the chipset and peripheral components for either Xeon servers or Itanium servers. Right now, an Itanium server costs more to manufacture.

Hewlett-Packard, Dell and IBM all announced they would release systems based on Nocona when it becomes available. For HP and Dell, the processor will be their first with 64-bit extensions to the x86 instruction set, while IBM will now sell servers based on Nocona and Advanced Micro Devices' Opteron chip.

Dell has backed the idea of 64-bit extensions for more than a year, but waited to introduce a product because it did not think Opteron has seen enough demand outside of the high-performance market, said Neil Hand, director of worldwide marketing for Dell's enterprise systems group.

HP's situation is a little more complicated by the fact that it already has a 64-bit strategy with the Itanium processor. But Itanium and Opteron are aimed at two very different markets, and HP has seen a lot of interest in 64-bit extensions technology, said Donald Jenkins, vice president of marketing for business critical servers at HP.

The only company that has jumped on board with both Intel and AMD is IBM. Years of experience with a broad product portfolio has prepared IBM to sell similar products to its customers, said Alex Yost, director of product marketing for IBM's xSeries servers. IBM sells high-end servers based on Itanium and its own Power4+ chip, he said.

Customers running certain types of applications will have a better experience with Opteron, while Nocona might be more applicable for a different type of customer, Yost said. In the end, the decision to sell both products benefits end users who now can compare the two products side by side and make the best decision for their needs, he said.

Later, Intel vice president and general manager Anand Chandrasekher highlighted the progress Intel has made with its Centrino mobile technology.

The 90-nanometer version of the Pentium M mobile processor, known as Dothan, is set to launch in the second quarter. The chip was delayed from an expected first-quarter launch after Intel discovered a "quality issue" that it needed to fix.

Dothan will be followed by the launch of the Sonoma package in the second half of this year. Sonoma updates the Centrino package of the Pentium M, a mobile chipset and a wireless chip with Dothan, a new chipset known as Alviso, and a wireless chip with support for the three major 802.11 standards.

Intel also showed off some notebook reference designs using the Sonoma technology. Newport and Florence are concept devices that Intel licenses to interested notebook manufacturers.

Newport has been around for a while, and products based on that design will appear later this year from Legend Group, Chandrasekher said. Newport allows notebook users to view information such as battery life or wireless network signal strength via a small screen attached to the cover of a notebook.

Notebooks based on Florence are a little further away from release. Three Florence designs were shown, including a 17-inch mobile entertainment PC that uses a wireless keyboard with a built-in remote control and voice over Internet Protocol phone.

Intel also unveiled a new four-way server blade, the Xeon MP-based Server Compute Blade SBX44 and built in collaboration with IBM.

Tom Krazit writes for IDG News Service

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