IDF: Intel sheds more light on server processors

Intel Corp. revealed new details on both its Xeon and Itanium server processors on Tuesday at its Intel Developer Forum (IDF) in San Jose, as the company continues its quest to unseat IBM Corp. and Sun Microsystems Inc. from their positions atop the high-end server market.

It’s business as usual for Intel with new versions of the Xeon chip. The Santa Clara, Calif.-based company will add larger cache sizes and increase the speed of Xeons due out this year and in 2004, said Lisa Graff, director of enterprise processor marketing at Intel, in an interview. On the Itanium side of the house, Intel made things a bit more exciting by releasing speeds and a second half of 2003 release date for its low-voltage Itanium 2 processor, code-named Deerfield.

The popularity of the Xeon chip has helped Intel hold a lion’s share of the server processor market. The company currently claims to power almost 90 per cent of the world’s servers.

It is looking to build on this success with the release of new Xeon chips for one and two-processor servers in the third quarter of this year, Graff said. The new chip will ship with a 1MB cache, which is close to double the cache on current Xeon DP chips. Intel will then follow that in the fourth quarter with a chip, code-named Nocona, that will have a higher clock speed along with the larger cache.

Intel also looks to boost the performance of its Xeon MP processor used in larger servers. The company will kick clock speeds well above 2GHz this year and eventually add a 4MB cache instead of 2MB to the chip, Graff said. In addition, Intel plans to release a processor code-named Potomac in 2004. This would be the first Xeon MP chip from Intel built with a 90-nanometer manufacturing process.

Intel plans to release a chipset for the Nocona servers in 2004 and follow that with a chipset for four-processor Potomac servers as well.

While Xeon has been a large success for Intel, the chip only plays in the 32-bit processor market where systems are generally smaller and cheaper than the 64-bit RISC (reduced instruction set computing) processor powered systems from IBM and Sun. Intel created the Itanium processor to go after this more lucrative high-end server market.

“We always look at ways to expand our business especially with regard to the revenue picture,” Graff said.

Thus far, the Itanium 2 processor has seen modest adoption, but Intel hopes to attract a new set of users with the Low Voltage Itanium 2 chip, which will fit in smaller, less expensive systems than the regular Itanium 2.

The first Low Voltage Itanium 2 will arrive at 1GHz and with 1.5MB of Level 3 cache. The chip will consume 62 watts at maximum power, which is close to half the power consumption of the Itanium 2 chip. Intel is hoping server makers will build thin, one and two-processor rack servers with the new chip.

Intel hopes the Low Voltage Itanium 2-based servers will erode some of Sun’s market share in the low end of the 64-bit processor space, Graff said. Sun has fared better than IBM and Hewlett-Packard Co. with low-end RISC servers.

In total, Intel hopes to leverage its manufacturing muscle to outpace rivals with both the Xeon and Itanium chips. The company claims it will be able to roll out new, faster chips at a quicker clip than competitors due to its focus on chip-making and significant resources.

On Tuesday, attendees at the show also watched Craig Barrett, chief executive officer at Intel Corp., kick off his company’s developer conference with a familiar message, saying ever-increasing computing power can stir growth in the currently depressed technology industry.

Barrett gave the opening keynote address at the IDF and used the platform to try to inject optimism into the IT industry about the years ahead. Although both business and consumer IT spending have flattened, the Intel chief remained convinced that a wide range of interconnected computing devices and new types of digital content would help jump start the industry. In particular, Barrett tried to show how computers and communications systems can work in tandem to benefit the end user.

“Despite the negative nature of the current economy, I think there are reasons to be optimistic about the future,” Barrett said. “What is necessary to ignite demand will be innovation, and that innovation has to come from us.”

More information about the IDF can be found at