Intel Raises the Processor Bar with Latest Gig
Intel Corp.officially broke through the gigahertz barrier as it shipped to OEMs its latestprocessor for front-end servers and high-end workstations: the 1-GHz PentiumIII Xeon. So, does this milestone mark a time for celebration at Intel?
Certainlythis move up the processor-speed ladder wasn’t unexpected. It’s only been a yearsince Intel (www.intel.com) released 500MHz for Internet servers, which generally feature one or two processors. Andonly two months ago Intel announced 700-MHz for multiprocessors. The 900 MHzfor multiprocessors has been promised for the first quarter of 2001.
So what’sthe big deal about a gig? Well, that’s just it -- it’s a gig. The Xeon is goingsomeplace no processor has ever gone before. Psychologically, it makes astatement.
“Certainlywith the evolution of the Intel processor it’s the next logical step, but thisone is a little something more,” says Shannon Poulin, product marketing managerfor Intel’s IA-32 division. “It marks a different era of computing as pathwayscontinue to expand to power business on the Internet.”
The 1-GHzprocessor continues the Xeon program of addressing scalability and availabilityas server racks continue to grow. New with the release is the SBT2 serverboard, which is targeted to systems sporting dual Xeon processors. The server boardsupports 10 hot-swap drives, which permits the swapping in and out of redundantpower supplies on the fly.
The 1-GHzprocessor sells for $719 in 1,000-unit quantities, while the server board sellsfor $575. IBM Corp. (www.ibm.com), DellComputer Corp. (www.dell.com), CompaqComputer Corp. (www.compaq.com), SiliconGraphics Inc. (www.sgi.com), and Intergraph Corp. (www.intergraph.com) are OEMs for the product that have signedon to date.
The productis a morale booster for Intel, which recently endured the recall of the1.13-GHz Pentium III chip, the fastest on the market at the time. The chip wasrecalled because it required a special motherboard, cooling unit, and a specialmicrocode update to work properly. Intel has been in a speed race with AdvanceMicro Devices Corp. (AMD, www.amd.com), whichreleased its 1.1-GHz Athlon chip at the end of August.
Intel alsohas been dogged with the continuing saga of the 64-bit Itanium, whichreportedly has been delayed repeatedly because of clock speed woes.
But none ofthese factors are impeding Intel’s march into the high-end, according to NathanBrookwood, an analyst at Insight 64 (www.insight64.com).
“Intel istargeting servers and workstations, and AMD really doesn’t participate in thatmarket,” Brookwood says. “Folks have been using the earlier Intel products, andthe 1-GHz processor will be a useful product for upgrades, particularly forentry-level.”
In fact,OEMs have complained that Intel has been pushing its processor upgrades out tooquickly.
“Weactually had an 800-MHz multiprocessing Xeon around the same timeframe as the 1GHz for dual processors,” Poulin says. “But OEMs felt it was getting a bitoverwhelming for them. We pushed back our schedule for larger performance unitsto six-month time periods rather than quarterly, so OEMs get a chance to gettime processing qualified before introducing a new bin.”
As far asthe 64-bit Itanium woes and the 1.13-GHz chip misstep, Brookwood sees both asinconsequential for Intel in the big picture.
“Being latewith the 64-bit Itanium certainly hasn’t affected its stock prices,” Brookwoodsays. “On the surface, some of these problems don’t do much for Intel’s image.On the other hand, I think most people look at the Itanium delay as Intelmaking sure it gets it right. Everybody in both the NT and Unix spaces is beingcautious in introducing new products. When you get up into the high end,reliability is everything. And remember the 1.13-GHz chip is for the desktopprocessor only. In think the thing Intel is really pointing to is theforthcoming Pentium IV's [chip and processor] targeted for desktops,workstations, and servers. That will be a real step forward.”