Xeon, Itanium, Centrino march onward

While the big news of the Spring Intel Developer Forum was Tuesday’s announcement that Intel Corp. planned to release processors with 64-bit extensions, the company used Wednesday’s keynotes to provide more details about the Itanium processor family as well as its forthcoming mobile technologies.

The Nocona Xeon processor will debut at 3.6GHz in the second quarter with support for 64-bit extensions technology, said Mike Fister, senior vice-president and general manager of Intel’s enterprise platforms group. It will also come with 1MB of Level 2 cache, an 800MHz front-side bus and will support three different operating modes: pure 32-bit mode, a combination 64-bit/32-bit mode, and a pure 64-bit mode, he said at the San Francisco event.

The Xeon MP server processor line will also receive the extensions technology enhancement next year, Fister said. It will take more time to validate the new technologies with large, multiprocessor servers, he said.

Intel embedded the extensions technology into the Prescott core that was recently released as the newest Pentium 4 desktop processor, and can therefore turn it on when it feels the market is ready, said Ajay Malhotra, general manager of enterprise marketing at Intel, in an interview after the keynote.

Prescott-based processors with the extensions technology will be released later this year for workstations and single-processor servers, but Intel is not disclosing at this time the brand identities of those chips, he said. Server and workstation processors are the sole focus of the extensions technology at this point in time, Malhotra said.

Intel also released a 3.2GHz Xeon processor with 2M bytes of cache Wednesday. Older Xeon processors had just 1MB of cache.

Two new Itanium processors designed for two-way servers will ship this year with 3MB of cache at 1.4GHz and 1.6GHz. This line of dual-processor Itanium chips will continue into the future with the Millington processor in 2005, and the multicore Dinoma processor will be released sometime after Millington.

The standard Itanium processor for multiprocessor servers will have two cores in 2005 with the introduction of Montecito. Fister revealed a few details about the Bayshore chipset that will come with Montecito. Bayshore makes use of a faster front-side bus, double data rate (DDR2) memory, and PCI Express, he said.

Montecito will also come with two new technologies. Pellston is the code name for new cache reliability technology, and Foxton represents the multicore, multithreaded approach Intel is taking to improve performance, Fister said.

Pellston allows the chip to detect errors in the cache memory banks and shut down the problematic parts of the cache before they can cause problems, Malhotra said. Foxton is a method of temporarily boosting the clock speed of a multicore processor to take advantage of unused execution units, he said.

Further down the road, Intel plans to make the platform costs of Xeon and Itanium identical, Malhotra said. That means that after purchasing the chip, it will cost a server vendor the same amount of money to build the chipset and peripheral components for either Xeon servers or Itanium servers, he said. Right now, an Itanium server costs more to manufacture, he explained.

Fister welcomed representatives from Hewlett-Packard Co., Dell Inc. and IBM Corp. on stage during his keynote. The three server companies professed their support for both the Itanium processor and Intel’s 64-bit extensions technology. IBM already sells servers with rival Advanced Micro Devices Inc.’s Opteron processor with similar extensions technology.

Shifting gears after the server discussion, Intel vice-president and general manager Anand Chandrasekher highlighted the progress Intel has made with its Centrino mobile technology. Chandrasekher sported a recently shaved head, the result of a promise that he would lose his hair if the Centrino sales team met its targets.

The 90 nanometer version of the Pentium M mobile processor, known as Dothan, is set to launch in the second quarter, Chandrasekher said. The chip was delayed from an expected first quarter launch after Intel discovered a “quality issue” that it needed to fix, he said.

Dothan will be followed by the launch of the Sonoma package in the second half of this year. Sonoma updates the Centrino package of the Pentium M, a mobile chipset and a wireless chip with Dothan, a new chipset known as Alviso, and a wireless chip with support for the three major 802.11 standards.

Intel also showed off some notebook reference designs that utilize the Sonoma technology. Newport and Florence are concept devices that Intel licenses to interested notebook manufacturers.

Newport has been around for a while, and products based on that design will appear later this year from Legend Group Ltd., Chandrasekher said. Newport allows notebook users to view information such as battery life or wireless network signal strength via a small screen attached to the cover of a notebook.

Notebooks based on Florence are a little further away from release, Chandrasekher said. Three Florence designs were shown, including a 17-inch mobile entertainment PC that uses a wireless keyboard with a built-in remote control and voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) phone.

Chandrasekher also announced that the Standards Panel Working Group has released a new specification that is expected to help notebook display manufacturers get their products out more quickly and make those displays interchangable across a wide range of notebooks.

Intel vice-president and general manager Bill Siu kicked off Wednesday’s keynote with a discussion of Intel’s desktop PC technologies for the corporate market. He showed off two new small form factor desktops based on Intel’s BTX, or balanced technology extended, reference design.

Two BTX desktops fit in the chassis of a standard PC, and other small desktop designs are expected to become available from PC manufacturers over time, Siu said.

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