Intel lets blade vendors double up their servers

Intel Corp. opened up new doors to vendors that make blade servers Tuesday, offering a low-power server chip that allows them to pack two processors in each server.

Fujitsu Ltd. and Dell Computer Corp. are the first vendors to announce plans for dual-processor blade servers based on Intel’s new low-voltage Pentium III chip, which runs at 800MHz, said Lisa Hambrick, director of enterprise processor marketing at Intel. The servers are expected to arrive later this year, targeted at users looking for compact systems to serve up Web pages and e-mail or to handle firewall tasks.

RLX Technologies Inc. and Compaq Computer Corp. already sell blade servers using what Intel calls its ultra-low voltage processor, but that chip has not yet been optimized for use in dual-processor systems, an Intel spokesman said. The ultra-low voltage chip operates at 1.1 volts while the low-voltage chip operates at 1.15 volts, he said. A standard Pentium III Xeon processor operates at 1.45 volts.

Processors that operate at lower voltages tend to generate less heat than other chips, allowing hardware makers to cram more servers into a standard rack. RLX has delivered the highest density from a major blade maker to date, fitting 24 servers in a 3U (5.25 inches) space.

The low-voltage chip launched Tuesday by Intel offers more processing power than its ultra-low voltage chip, but limits somewhat how many servers can be packed into a chassis. Intel expects dual processor blades to be marginally less dense than single processor blades, Hambrick said. Hardware makers will likely create one chassis that can hold either single- or dual-processor blades, she said.

RLX sells blade servers with chips from both Santa Clara, Calif.-based Intel and Transmeta Corp. The server maker has said the Intel products offer better overall performance than Transmeta’s chips, but that the Transmeta products, originally designed for laptops, consume less power. While Transmeta has its supporters, Intel claims that performance should be a key metric even in the blade arena, and claims that is the reason it has garnered support from OEMs (original equipment manufacturers).

“It is not just about throwing out a mobile processor into the server space,” Hambrick said.

The low voltage Pentium IIIs come with 512K bytes of on-chip level 2 cache memory and support a 133MHz system bus. Intel is selling the chips for US$289 per CPU (central processing unit) in 1,000-unit quantities.