Intel unwraps Nocona

Intel Corp. unveiled the next generation of its Xeon processor — the company’s first chip to include EM64T (Extended Memory 64 Technology), which allows the processor to run both 32-bit and 64-bit software.

A number of hardware vendors, including Dell Inc. and Hewlett-Packard Co., have thrown their weight behind the chip by detailing plans to support it in forthcoming servers and workstations.

Intel last week also released a chip set for workstations based on the new Xeon processor. The E7525 includes a faster 800MHz system bus, DDR2 memory, and Intel’s next-generation PCI Express interconnect.

The new Xeon, which had been code-named Nocona, comes more than a year after Intel rival Advanced Micro Devices Inc. issued its Opteron processor. Extending Intel’s 32-bit x86 processor instructions so they can handle 64-bit computing, Xeon’s approach is similar to Opteron’s.

Although Opteron and Nocona are expected to run the same software, they have significant differences, said Richard Dracott, general manager for the enterprise platform marketing and planning group at Intel. “We have taken a different approach to how we balance the system overall,” he said. “We chose to go with a faster front-side bus, faster subsystem, and PCI Express.”

Nocona and Opteron systems will have different designs and use different chip sets, but for most users, the difference between the two processors will not be visible, said Jim Turley, an independent microprocessor analyst. “It still looks like a PC, smells like a PC, and feels like a PC,” he said. “The battle now is what sort of brand and reputation do these companies have.”

Linux already supports the 64-bit extensions used by Nocona and Opteron, but Microsoft support will not be garnered until the company ships new service pack releases of Windows XP and Windows Server 2003, both expected by year’s end.

Backing the chip, both Dell and HP announced plans to release EM64T workstations with as much as 16GB of memory.

Dell foreshadowed a forthcoming blade server that will use the chip. The unnamed system, to be part of the Dell PowerEdge series, will use Intel’s Nocona chip, along with the accompanying Lindenhurst chip set. The system will also feature fast DDR2 memory, a PCI Express bus, a remodeled chassis, and the ability to support redundant drives and power supplies, although the latter components will more likely be integrated into a separate storage unit.

The E7320, a Nocona chip set designed for servers, will be available by the end of August.

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