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Showtime For Intel

Intel and its major computer partners are planning to unveil "Woodcrest," the long-awaited next generation server chip based on the company's new Core microarchitecture.

All the major system vendors, including HP, IBM, and Dell have announced plans to support the new architecture with some servers slated to be ship as soon as next week.

AMD has been chipping away at Intel's dominant server share with its high performance, more energy-efficient Opteron which has gained over 20 percent of the market for server chips.

In this ongoing title fight over who has the best server chips, Woodcrest represents Intel's best chance in a while to win a round. Even AMD admits Intel's made gains.

"I think Woodcrest goes a long way towards closing the gap with us, but there are areas they've failed to address," John Freuhe, worldwide market development manager for servers and workstations at AMD, told internetnews.com. "They've gotten the religion on power consumption but they still don't match us in total cost of ownership.

Freuhe argues that AMD has laid a consistent architectural foundation with Opteron, while Intel has changed its design. "We have a single common core, so as a customer thinks about moving to a two-way or four-way or eight-way processor they don't have to worry about features not being there, or having to compile their applications."

But analyst Nathan Brookwood, an often outspoken critic of Intel's missteps, said Woodcrest looks like a winner.

"Unlike the last couple of years, when Intel had to go far and wide to find a benchmark it could win, and found virtually none on the power side except for mobile, it will be a much closer fight now with Woodcrest. I think Intel will win its share of benchmarks as will AMD," said Brookwood, who heads Insight64.

Brookwood notes Opteron and Woodcrest have different strengths. "The cache size and technology on the Intel chip is very advanced and does more than either AMD's Athlon or Opteron. If you have an application that is sensitive to cache size, performance will probably be better on Intel."

On the other hand, he said Opteron is stronger for applications that need to get at data quickly, like streaming and Web services, due largely because of the chips on-board memory controller.

"Fundamentally, we'll see differences of five to ten percent one way or the other going forward between Intel and AMD," said Brookwood. "As a result, it's going to be tougher for AMD to keep gaining share."

Intel said it expects Woodcrest to provide 80 percent better performance and consume 35 percent less energy than the Intel Xeon 2.8 GHz processor.

Intel also has desktop and mobile processors coming out later this year based on the Core microarchitecture. The Conroe desktop chip is due out in the next few months, while the "Merom" mobile processor will follow later in the year. Intel said Conroe will provide a 40 percent improvement in both performance and energy savings over the current Pentium D 950 processor.

AMD will be adding DDR2  memory and other enhancements to the next version of Opteron due out later this year.