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Intel's 'Gallatin' a Warm Up for 'Nocona'

On the road to releasing its next generation Xeon processor, Intel is taking a little side trip along its current generation of workhorse server chips.

The Santa Clara, Calif.-based chip making giant is expected to announce a substantial upgrade to its Xeon processor family specifically its "Gallatin" version. The multi-core processor's current configuration runs at 2.8GHz with 2MB Level 3 cache.

During a presentation Tuesday broadcast from Thomson Financial in New York, the improved Gallatin will be unveiled at speeds of 3GHz with double the amount of L3 cache -- to 4MB. The upgrade was planned last year. The chips are expected to find their way into 4-way and larger servers.

Already partners are coming out in support of the new chip. including systems integrator Unisys. as well as vendors Dell and Hewlett-Packard .

While a speed bump and a memory increase is not earth shattering news, it does indicate that the chipmaking giant sees a market need for fast 32-bit multi-processor systems until its 64-bit "Nocona" Xeon debuts this summer.

Last month, Intel announced its plans to release the 64-bit extensions for its x86 processor family. Xeon's next generation Nocona will get the first crack at the extensions commonly referred to by Intel as "CT," or Clackamas Technology, beginning next quarter. The 64-bit Pentium extensions for "Prescott" P4s are expected to debut sometime mid-year.

"The world doesn't stop just because Intel said it is going to put 64-bit extensions into future processors. Upgrades will go on," Illuminata analyst Gordon Haff told internetnews.com. "If there are interim process announcements, those would be dictated by technical advancements not marketing ones."

So why continue to build out the Gallatin subset? A pressing technical need, surmised Haff, to cover a gap in multi-processor systems primarily running Windows applications. Specifically, Windows Server 2003-related ones.

"There is always a phase out time involved with each architecture. Nocona will take over from current processors fairly quickly, but not entirely," Haff said.

Microsoft has moved to pledge support for all 64-bit x86 systems including "Nocona" Xeon processors as well as AMD's Opteron. However, the Redmond, Wash.-based software vendor is not expected to have its full versions available until the second half of this year.

"One of the benefits of the x86 64-bit enhanced chips is that there is no penalty in taking Nocona and using them as 32-bit processors," Haff said.

The Gallatin chips would also be a bigger boon for companies running Windows systems than, say, Linux-based ones.

The multi-processor space is not for Linux as much as it is for Windows," Haff said. "Linux is not used as much in the application tier or the database tier. Their real volume focus is in Web tier and network tier systems that are closer to the network edge."

The other area of high interest for the new Gallatin chips, Haff suggests, is in 4-way Xeon systems, the darling of high performance computing .

As for forcing a price war against its own processor families, Haff points out that Intel has been fairly consistent with its price points despite adding higher frequencies. The company has even suggested that its EPIC-based architecture Itanium line would see a meeting in the middle with higher-end Xeon processors. But that is not expected to happen for some time.

Later this year, Intel's roadmap will introduce its Xeon "Potomac" and new chipsets for all server sizes with PCI-Express support.



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