1 GHz Servers Unlikely Until Q3

One GHz processors from Advanced Micro Devices Inc. and Intel Corp. are trickling onto the market, sparking imaginations and opening pocketbooks. But for most in the business world, 1 GHz servers will remain unattainable, at least for a while.

Intel (www.intel.com), which introduced its 1 GHz Pentium two days after AMD (www.amd.com), released a limited supply to OEMs. What few chips are sold will go to desktop users, such as gamers, who covet high-performance computing.

"We don’t expect to see these in servers in Q2," says George Alfs, a spokesman at Intel. For the time being, Intel is producing small quantities of the 1 GHz chip, aiming at niche users. "We may be doing a Xeon," he says, suggesting that the chip's use in servers may be on the way. Intel’s Xeon line of processors is geared toward servers.

Compaq Computer Corp. (www.compaq.com) won't give definite plans for 1 GHz servers, but they're not waiting for the Xeon. "We will also be implementing 1 GHz Pentium IIIs," says John Young, vice president of TaskSmart Web caching servers at Compaq. Compaq was also designated as an early vendor of the 1 GHz Athlon, but currently does not use AMD chips in their server lines. Young did not rule out future AMD servers, saying that Compaq is committed to the highest performance, regardless of the manufacturer.

AMD chips are shipping in quantity from their plant in Austin, Texas, to Compaq and Gateway Inc. (www.gateway.com). Few major vendors currently use AMD processors in servers.

One of the most surprising aspects of the 1 GHz race is that Windows-compatible chips were the first to hit the streets. Eighteen months ago it was unimaginable that Intel, let alone AMD, would achieve the top clock speeds. Nathan Brookwood, senior analyst at Insight 64, says he thought DEC Alpha would hit 1 GHz first.

Like the year 2000 rollover, the news is more about numbers, rather than technology: The 1 GHz chips are souped up versions of AMD’s Athlon and Intel’s Pentiums, not the next generation Thunderbird or Itanium chips.

But 1 GHz is not trivial, Brookwood says: "A change in measurement doesn’t happen very often." He is excited by the prospect of clock speeds being described in Gigahertz, saying, "We’re about to embark on our third era," moving past the days of Kilohertz and Megahertz measurement.

The chips, apparently, were rushed to market in a fierce race between the two vendors. "Normally we wouldn’t have seen them until late in the third quarter," Brookwood says. Although they were pushed to market, he doesn’t foresee any reliability problems.

AMD, which was the first to ship a 1 GHz chip, is bucking its perception as an economy vendor, rather than a high-performance chip designer. "AMD lagged Intel by six to 18 months by delivered performance," Brookwood says. Its upstaging of Intel may strip away its "cheap chips" image. Indeed, the first 1 GHz Athlons were selling at $999 each in lots of 1,000.

All eyes are still on the next generation of PC chips, the Intel Itanium and AMD’s Thunderbird. The Itanium will offer 64-bit processing for the PC, expanding the PC’s performance potential. Similarly, Thunderbird boasts a new architecture, allowing AMD to reach further performance heights.