When it comes to chips in servers, clock speeds are no longer the important measurement. According to Intel, the leading maker of chips for PCs and servers, the key criterion is performance per watt and the amount of heat a chip generates. The chipmaking company on Thursday unveiled a server microprocessor road map and a new naming nomenclature that divides its portfolio in three distinct performance strata, including a Xeon that uses only 31 watts, planned for 2006.
In addition, 2006 will bring a full-scale migration to dual-core processors, with Intel projecting that 85% of all server processors shipped by the end of that year will be dual core, as well as 70% of all desktop and mobile processors.
Intel is establishing four lines for its server processors: the 9000 series, which will include all Itanium 2 devices; the 7000 series, which includes the current Xeon MP line targeted at multiprocessor systems; the 5000 series for Xeon processor targeted at single and dual socket systems; and the 3000 series for chipsets.
"The higher number will represent more value to the end customers, and we think this type of numbering scheme will help simplify things as we go to dual-core devices and add even larger caches," says Kirk Skaugen, general manager of Intel's server platforms group.
The new numbered lines are similar to what Intel has already done with its Pentium processor line for the desktop and mobile markets, and what rival Advanced Micro Devices Inc. has done in its desktop, mobile, and server markets.
Within the Xeon line, Intel is establishing three levels based on performance and power dissipation, a phrase used by the semiconductor industry to refer to heat generation. The three levels include a top-end performance-optimized line, a rack-optimized mid-voltage (MV) line, and an ultra-dense low-voltage (LV) line. Beginning in the second half of this year, Intel plans to offer a performance optimized Xeon that uses 110 watts, MV devices at 90 watts, and LV devices at 55 watts. All will be single core.
Beginning in the first half of 2006, Intel will refresh all three Xeon levels with dual-core devices as it also shifts from 90-nanometer processor production to 65 nanometers. That transition will include the introduction the LV Sossaman processor. That device will be based on the Yonah core used now in Pentium M technology found in Intel's mobile desktop platform, and will use 31 watts. Intel promises an additional refresh of the processor lines in the second half of 2006 that is expected to result lower heat generation for the performance optimized and LV Xeon processors.
The multilevel server portfolio, both in terms of the numbering scheme and heat generation, will allow equipment manufacturers to create systems tailored to meet specific market requirements for performance and power, Skaugen says.
According to Intel, the addition of a dual-core Xeon in the first half of next year in the performance-optimized segment will roughly double performance over the single-core offering available today, and the introduction of a lower-power dual-core Xeon for the power-optimized market in the second half of 2006 will roughly triple performance.
In the ultra-dense low-voltage market, introduction of the dual-core and lower-voltage Sossaman Xeon in the first half of 2006 will more than double performance per rack compared to the existing low-voltage Xeon, and the introduction of an even lower-power dual-core device in the first half of 2007 will provide nearly 3.5 times performance improvement, Skaugen says.
"Once again we're watching [Intel] follow us," says Pat Patla, director of server and workstation marketing for AMD. "We launched model numbers 2-1/2 years ago. And last year, we created a server platform with three thermal bands."
Earlier this week, a new study by Mercury Research showed that AMD has gained share in the x86 server processor market, growing from 7.4% in the first quarter of 2005 to 11.2% in the second quarter.