Intel boosts cache on Gallatin Xeon Processor MP

Intel Corp. released three new chips for multiprocessor server environments Monday, updating its Xeon line of processors with a larger level 3 cache and faster clock speeds.

The Xeon Processor MP, formerly code-named Gallatin, will be used mainly in four-way servers for both middle-tier and back-end applications, said Lisa Graff, director of enterprise processor marketing at Intel.

The new processor is Intel’s first Xeon Processor MP built on its .13-micron chipmaking process. This allowed the company to incorporate a 2MB Level 3 cache on the chip, an 1MB increase over the previous family of Xeon Processor MPs built on a .18-micron process, code-named Foster, Graff said.

A cache is a pool of memory close to the processor that allows the same instructions to be accessed many times, which is necessary in most processing tasks. It uses SRAM (static RAM), which can be accessed more quickly than DRAM (dynamic RAM), the main memory type used in PCs.

Intel took a step backward when moving from the older Pentium III Xeon to the Foster processors, decreasing the cache from 2MB to 1MB, said Gordon Haff, an analyst with Illuminata Inc. in Nashua, N.H. As it added new components from its Netburst architecture to the Foster Xeon chip, the company wasn’t left with enough room on the die to include the larger cache. Now that Intel is making the Gallatin Xeon chip on its smaller .13 micron process, it can add that cache back in, he said.

“Having these larger caches provides a significant performance jump” over older Foster Xeons, Haff said.

The new Xeon Processor MPs will be available in three clock speeds, 2GHz, 1.9GHz, and 1.5GHz. The 2GHz chip will be the only one to include the 2MB cache, and will be priced at US$3,692. The other two chips will feature a 1MB cache, and be priced at US$1,980 and US$1,177, respectively. All prices are in 1,000-unit quantities, and all the chips are available immediately worldwide.

“Even though the (2.0GHz) processor is significantly more expensive, you’ll get value from the larger cache,” Haff said.

The chip includes hyperthreading, which allows a processor to queue up one software thread while processing a different one. Hyperthreading can be found on older versions of the Xeon Processor MP, and Intel is bringing the technology to its desktop processors with the upcoming release of its 3.06GHz Pentium 4 processor.

Hewlett-Packard Co. (HP) is expected to release a four-way server containing the chip now that Gallatin has made it to the market. The ProLiant ML570 is considered a high-end machine within HP’s ProLiant line. Other systems vendors will soon release servers using the technology, Graff said.

Intel, based in Santa Clara, Calif., will be coming out with new Xeon processors for small servers and workstations later this quarter, as part of a company-wide trend to accelerate the introduction of its technology, Graff said.