64-bit of a do

Intel’s reveals its new 64-bit Xeon, the company’s latest solution for the network edge. The processor is accompanied by the E7525 workstation chipset while E7520 and E7320 server chipsets will follow in August.

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By  Simon Duddy Published  June 30, 2004

Intel has unveiled its new Xeon processor based platform, which becomes its solution for the network edge. The Xeon will come in three varieties, each with a different chipset. The workstation version with E7525 chipset (codenamed Nocona) has already been released while server-orientated versions with E7520 and E7320 chipsets (codenamed Lindenhurst and Lindenhurst VS) will be released on August 2. The Intel IOP332 I/O processor (codenamed Dobson) will also be released at this time. The new Xeon, which is available in clock speeds ranging from 2.8GHz to 3.6GHz, incorporates 64-bit addressing, which tackles a key concern of many users in the server space. With 32-bit addressing, memory per processor is limited to 4GB but with 64-bit, servers can accommodate much more memory per processor. “The processor will support up to 64GB of memory [depending on the limitations of the server], which is much more than any application today could reasonably need,” says Ferhad Patel, strategic relations manager, Intel Middle East & North Africa. However, Intel has emphasised the chipset enhancements it has introduced and has been keen to play down the 64-bit element of the new processor. Intel has built technology that limits power consumption into the chipsets. This is similar to the Speedstep technology employed by Intel notebook processors. The idea is the same – to reduce heat. This is designed to allow more densely packed memory modules and allows corporations to reduce heat problems in their large server clusters. Intel has also included support for PCI express DDR2 memory in the chipset. PCI Express will allow network and storage peripherals to be connected more efficiently and DDR2 memory again boosts speed. On the downside DDR2 memory and PCI express compatible products will be priced at a premium until the technology matures. This improved Xeon performance places it closer to the Itanium, although Intel insists that the Xeon lacks the scalability to challenge the Itanium in the large enterprise arena. The company sees the Xeon as its edge of network solution and the Itanium as its mission critical solution. That said, the Xeon’s integer performance is now comparable to that of the Itanium and Intel has long-term plans to merge the two platforms together. “We’re providing higher performance coupled with lower power consumption,” says Patel. “The third benefit is that the processors will support 64-bit extensions when they become widely available,” he explains. Intel is playing down the importance of 64-bit extensions as 64-bit software is scarce at present. There is a 64-bit Linux operating system, but 64-bit versions of Microsoft Windows and Exchange are expected to be available only in Q4 of this year. The 64-bit version of Windows that currently works with Intel Itanium processors will not work with the Xeon. Intel claims that the Xeon will be aggressively priced compared to its current range of Xeon processors. For example, Intel’s list price for a 3.6GHz Xeon processors is $851 (when buying 1000). “The Intel 64-bit announcement is very good news for the industry,” says Pierre Brunswick, regional sales director, Russia-CIS, Middle East & Africa, AMD. “However, Intel is using expensive technology to compete with AMD because they still have to go through the front side bus (FSB), as they haven’t got hyper transport. They are using DDR2 memory to boost performance but this is still very expensive and you don’t need it with Opteron. We will move to DDR2 when the prices come down, maybe in a year and a half.” Like Intel, AMD is keen to emphasise the overall technology in its Athlon 64 and Opteron offerings, rather than simply that it is 64-bit ready. “We feel our solution has excellent technology such as hyper transport, which is a good way to bypass the bottleneck of the FSB. It offers 6.4GB/s and zero latency even when using four processors,” says Brunswick. With regards to PCI Express, AMD plans to connect it to the hyper transport bus rather than the FSB. This connection is still under development, so will be later to market than Intel’s solution but AMD claims that its offering will be faster as it avoids going through the FSB.

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