RealTime IT News

Intel's Quad-Core Server Edge

Now it's Intel's turn.

AMD shocked the chip giant last year when it was first to market with a dual-core processor for servers.

The AMD Opteron was an immediate hit, not only in taking a healthy bite out of Intel's dominant market share, but winning the company blue chip server makers like HP, IBM and Dell.

But now, Intel  has beaten AMD to the punch, introducing the next generation of quad-core processors Tuesday that feature four computing engines, or cores. Intel claims its new Xeon 5300 (known as Clovertown while in development) beats Opteron in every significant benchmark.

Kirk Skaugen, general manager of Intel's Server Platform group, said the Xeon 5300 offers as much as a 50 percent performance improvement in the same thermal envelope as the current Xeon 5100 processor launched about five months ago, and at the same cost.

At the low end, Intel's has priced the 5300 at $455 for a 1.60GHz processor with a 1066 MHz front-side bus and 8 MB of cache, running at 80 watts. There are three other models ranging in price from $690 to $851 to $1,172 for the top end, 2.66GHz X5355 processor with a 1333 MHz front-side bus with 8MB of cache and consuming 120 watts.

"This is an aggressive ramp up and we made the decision to volume price it right away," Skaugen told internetnews.com.

HP, for example, said it'll have Xeon 5300-based workstations ready to ship Tuesday at a starting price of $2,349.

Intel is holding a media event Tuesday in San Francisco where several leading software vendors, (IBM, Oracle, VMware, Citrix, Microsoft, SAP, and Sybase) and corporate IT customers (Schlumberger, Sutter Health and others) will discuss the advantages of moving to quad-core.

IBM, Dell and HP have already announced Xeon 5300-based systems, heading a list that's sure to expand rapidly.

"They beat AMD to market but it's not a knock-out blow at all," Jim McGregor, analyst with In-Stat, told internetnews.com. "This helps switch the momentum where AMD has had it all going its way of late."

McGregor added that Intel has leapt ahead for now, but if AMD delivers in the first half of 2007 as expected, the price/performance horse race will resume.

"If AMD was a year behind, that would be a big deal, but six months doesn't mean much when you look at how long it takes IT departments to qualify equipment," said

McGregor. "What Intel has done, is stem the tide of market losses. The market is much more competitive now."

Some technology purists would likely join AMD in arguing the Xeon 5300 is not a "pure" quad-core design, but rather two dual-core 5100's joined together.

"Clearly Intel's focus was in getting whatever they could out as soon as possible," Illuminata analyst Gordon Haff told internetnews.com. "Packaging two Woodcrests isn't the most sophisticated design approach, but it's quick and easy for Intel to do. And Woodcrest is a good chip, so you're going to see good performance in most applications."

In a statement, AMD said it considered taking a similar approach to Intel's, joining two of its dual-core Opteron's, but decided against it. Randy Allen, vice president of AMD's server and workstation business, said the approach falls short in performance scalability under "real application load," and power efficiency.

Intel has already trotted out numerous industry benchmarks that show the Xeon 5300 significantly outperforming Opteron in several areas.

Analyst Haff said that while no one at AMD is likely to be popping champagne corks over Intel's announcement, the news isn't all bad.

"The fact is that AMD still rides on Intel's coattails to a degree," said Haff. He points out that Intel is, in effect, priming the market for multi-core and, with its massive resources can do so in a much more substantial way than AMD could dream of.

"There's a huge difference in size between Intel's software organization and AMD's, and that software support is key," said Haff. "If AMD delivers a real kick ass quad-core processor next year, the market will be that much more ready for them."