RealTime IT News

Intel's Fab Five Mean Business

SAN FRANCISCO -- Intel is taking stock in its enterprise-focused processors to compete more voraciously against offerings from IBM and AMD .

The No. 1 chipmaker said it is initially focusing on five new dual-core Itanium, Xeon and Pentium processors to handle business needs from the mainframe to the server to the client. The company's roadmap announcement highlighted the next-generation of its chip family at the Intel Developer Forum here this week. The chips are expected to compete heavily with offerings from IBM and AMD .

"Right now about half of the market is served by Xeon and compatible processors. The rest is RISC and Itanium systems," Gelsinger said. "It's no surprise that IBM is behind Power, so we had a decision to make. Do we serve the rest of the industry and live on IBM's platforms or do we focus on our own strategy."

Names like Smithfield, Yonah, Montecito, Presler and Dempsey may sound like the starting lineup at a college basketball game, but to Intel they represent its opportunity in the next two years to introduce the x86 community to the benefits of dual-core technologies.

Smithfield is Intel's upcoming Pentium D (dual) 800-series chip due this year without its Hyper-Threading technology. Presler is Intel's first crack at 65-nanometer (nm) process dual-core technology for the Pentium core. Yonah is its Pentium M dual-core mobile processor. Presler and Yonah are both due next year. Montecito is Intel's long-awaited 90nm Itanium processor, and Dempsey is the next-generation Xeon based on 65nm.

"We're not worried about dual-core products overshadowing our single-core processors," Pat Gelsinger, former Intel CTO and now its digital enterprise czar, said during his keynote. "We will continue to make and support both for now."

OEMs will eventually have 15 different platforms to choose from. Each is getting outfitted with Intel-produced extensions like virtualization, memory addressability and I/O management. But Intel is a little more vague when it comes to exactly how it will mix and match core CPU capabilities with its attributes.

"It looks like they are setting up different configurations to make the most of their silicon," Kevin Krewell, a principal analyst at semiconductor market research firm In-Stat, told internetnews.com. "For example, they could have a dual-core chip based on one die or two die very close together and then add in the chipset features on top of that."

Krewell said the result is that Intel could put more cores per socket and reduce the size of its chips further or increase their performance by sharing Level 3 cache.

The argument has been the subject of debate between Intel's engineers, Gelsinger said. The question being, which is better: a fewer number of really fat cores or a large quantity of several lighter ones.

"We have to plan for our customers' socket transitions as we introduce extensions like our virtualization technology, but we have to do it in a way that is stable," Gelsinger said.

Gelsinger also said Intel was transitioning its entire line of processors toward 64-bit architectures with less reliance on standard DIMMs and more emphasis on registered DIMMs in 2005 with fully buffered DIMMs introduced in Intel systems in 2006.

A Dual Road Ahead

Intel's dual- and multi-core processors have a long life ahead, Intel said. The platform, code-named Richford, will include two Intel Itanium processors, code-named Tukwila, due in 2007, followed by a future-generation Intel Itanium processor, code-named Poulson.

The first dual-core, multi-processor Xeon, code-named Paxville, is due in the first quarter of 2006. Intel said it will launch broad seeding programs to businesses and software developers by the end of this year. Likewise, the platform, code-named Reidland, will include a multi-processor Xeon with more than two cores and is due in 2007. Both chips are expected to appear in servers with four or more chips per box.

For high-volume, dual processor servers, Intel said the platform, code-named Bensley, will arrive in the first quarter of 2006 and will be based on the dual-core Intel Xeon processor, code-named Dempsey. Dempsey will also be used in the platform, code-named Glidewell for high-end workstations.

For the digital office, the platform, code-named Lyndon, will debut later in 2005 and will be based on Intel 945/955 chipsets and Pentium 4 processors in the 500-series and 600-series range. The Lyndon platform will support both Intel active management technology and Intel virtualization technology.