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Intel, OEMs Preparing New Four-Processor Servers

Intel  and its OEM partners are preparing new four-socket server machines for release this fall, filling in a big gap in the No. 1 chipmaker's product line, but they might face stiff competition from another Intel offering.

The new platform, developed under the code-name Caneland, features the first multiprocessor systems featuring the Core 2 architecture. Multiprocessor is defined as more than two processors, and while these systems can conceivably go to 16 or more chips, they tend to max out at four physical processors.

In a video interview posted on Intel's blog pages, Kirk Skaugen, vice president and general manager of server products at Intel, said Caneland chips have been shipping to OEMs since the second quarter. The first servers with Caneland chips are expected in September.

Caneland features a new processor and chipset. The processors, code-named Tigerton, are quad-core Xeon CPUs, meaning a four-processor system will have 16 cores. Each chip will max out at 2.93 gigahertz. The new chipset was developed under the code-name Clarksboro.

They will sport high-speed interconnects between the four processors so they can all talk to each other directly. This marks the first upgrade to Intel's multiprocessor architecture since NetBurst was introduced with the Pentium 4 back in 2000. This new architecture will offer double the performance of the previous versions of multiprocessing systems, Skaugen said.

Semiconductor industry analyst Nathan Brookwood of Insight64 said Caneland was long overdue.

"The new chipset they've got provides a lot more memory bandwidth and private frontside bus for each of the four processor sockets. These are all good things, and it certainly will be I'm sure a much more efficient platform than the one that Intel has been shipping up until now," Brookwood told internetnews.com.

Skaugen said performance per watt will be dramatically improved as the Tigerton chips can run in as low as a 50-watt envelope.

However, Brookwood pointed out that Intel uses fully buffered memory, which uses an extra five to six watts more than non-buffered memory. In a four-processor system, "you are talking anywhere from 16 to 64 memory modules. So that's a heck of a lot of power going up for the memory," he said.

This new architecture gives Intel some ammunition in its never-ending battle with AMD , which Brookwood said has more than 50 percent of the four-socket system market due to its much newer and more advanced Opteron processors.

However, Intel has a really strong story in the future in the form of Nehalem, which will be a whole new architecture that does away with the frontside bus entirely for a more direct connect architecture between CPU and memory.

Now it becomes a question of, will customers wait one more year for the Nehalem systems, or jump on the Caneland bandwagon now?

The counterpoint to waiting is that if you hold off, you'll never make a purchase because there is always something newer and better coming. But in the case of Nehalem, it looks very good on paper, said Brookwood.

"Usually what's coming down the line is a little better, whereas Nehalem is the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Historically, if you waited a year you could get 10 to 15 percent more performance. But Nehalem could be twice as fast as what the Caneland stuff is promising," he said.