RealTime IT News

Dual-Core Xeon Looks to Catch AMD

SAN FRANCISCO -- TV luminary Carl Reiner is not in the computer industry. Which is probably the reason he was the only one in the room full of media and analysts at the Museum of Modern Art here who was surprised by Intel's announcement of its dual-core Xeon "Paxville" processor.

The "official" news was long pre-empted by Intel's road-map disclosures at its developer's conference in August and by various hardware vendors, analysts and others. Today, Intel said some 30 computer companies plan to make systems based on the new Xeon processor, of which 17, headed by Dell, HP and IBM publicly announced today.

"Can someone please explain to me what that was all about?" asked Reiner, hired by Intel as the guest speaker following the formal rollout of the new processor. He said that, as a comedian, he's always worried about having to come onstage following someone funny, but that if he couldn't get the audience in front of him to laugh (which he did), he was in a lot of trouble. "I was backstage and didn't hear one iota of humor during that entire presentation," said Reiner.

Indeed. Maybe that's because Intel is deadly serious about maintaining its dominant market share in desktop and server processors and was getting tired of hearing how competitor AMD was leading in performance.

"Today's focus and the year ahead is about the transition to dual-core," said Steve Smith, vice president of Intel's digital business group. "We've been working on this since the mid-90s to build [dual-processor] and [multi-processor] servers and threads."

Ironically, much of the Paxville rollout event was punctuated by discussion of how much better Intel's next generation server platform, code-named Bensley, will be.

"Today is just the beginning. With Bensley, you'll see us move aggressively from the top to bottom of our product line," said Kirk Skaugen, general manager of Intel's server platform group. "We have ten projects going on that we envision being quad-core." Nearer term, Intel will expand its Paxville line later this year with a multi-processor version, the Xeon 7000.

For now, Intel claims servers based on dual-core Xeon processors, which run at 2.80 GHz, boast up to a 50 percent performance improvement over Intel's earlier uni- or single-core Xeon. The price is $1,043 in 1,000 unit quantities. Pricing has not been announced yet for the Xeon 7000, which will run at 3.0 GHz.

AMD delivered the first dual-core x86 processor for servers in April. Today's release of Paxville represents Intel's competitive response. Analysts believe dual-core Opteron systems still compare favorably to Paxville, but Intel has closed the gap considerably and may be in a stronger position going forward.

"Intel doesn't have to beat AMD right now, they just need to be competitive," an analyst with a major securities firm told internetnews.com. "But when you look at what Intel has in the pipeline for later next year, when it switches to [more cost-effective] 65 nanometer manufacturing, I don't see how AMD responds to that anytime soon," said the analyst, who asked not be identified.

Not surprisingly, AMD sees things differently. "It's clear the market is forcing Intel to respond to AMD, and Intel is betting its success on another stopgap solution," said AMD marketing executive Henri Richard, in a statement. "Unfortunately Intel is clouding the enterprise market with solutions that run hotter and offer minimal performance gains."

AMD also reiterated an earlier offer to hold a "dual-core duel" with Intel comparing performance benchmarks, an offer Intel earlier declined.