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2/28/2007
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Intel To Upgrade Workstation Chipset, Up Clock Speed Of Quad-Core Processor

The chipmaker's long-term roadmap includes a new micro-architecture for desktops, servers, workstations and mobile devices, code-named Nehalem

Intel on Wednesday said it would boost the clock speed of its quad-core Xeon processor, and introduce an upgraded chipset for workstation and high-performance computing.

Executives with the Santa Clara, Calif., company said the clock speed of the recently released quad-core, 65nm dual-socket Xeon 5300 series would be increased to 3GHz from the current 2.66 GHz. The boost stemmed from customer requests for a faster quad-core server chipset. The 5300 series was Intel's first crack at Xeon quad-core chips. The product line, which will get a refresh later this year, is also known by its code name, Clovertown.

In addition, the chipmaker said it would ship in the second half of the year a chipset with a faster front-side system bus. The FSB is a bi-directional bus that carries data between the CPU and other devices in the computer system, such as random access memory, hard disks and video cards. The chipset, code-named Seaburg, would have a 1600 MHz FSB versus 1333 MHz in Intel chipsets currently used in workstations and high-performance computing. "I would categorize it as a broad requirement (by customers)," Thomas Kilroy, vice president and general manager for Intel's Digital Enterprise Group, said of the speed boost during a press briefing in San Francisco.

Intel also said it plans to release in the third quarter the 7000-series of its dual-core Xeon processor in the new Core micro-architecture, which it claims is more energy efficient than the current NetBurst architecture. The improvement would enable the chipset's use in high-density blade servers.

The company said it planned to release this year chipsets that enable virtualization for directed I/O. I/O, or input/output, relates to the CPU reading and writing instructions in the computer's main memory. That type of virtualization in a chipset means more applications can be consolidated on a server computer.

During the meeting, Kilroy also said the company was on track to release several new chips. A low-voltage, 50-watt version of the quad-core Xeon 5300 series processor, code-named Clovertown LV, would ship by the end of next month. In addition, the company was on schedule to ship its four-way Caneland platform, based on the Core micro-architecture, in the third quarter. Planned for release this year on Caneland is the ultra-high-end, quad-core Xeon MP processor, code-named Tigerton.

Intel said it would ship in the second half of the year a Xeon processor built using 45-nanometer process technology. Code-named Penryn, the new processor line is expected to eventually cross product lines from desktop to server, workstation and mobile. The line will include dual-core and quad-core chips.

The 45nm process builds a smaller chip with less power leakage than the 65nm and 90nm predecessors. The 45nm process is widely seen as the next great advancement in the semiconductor industry. "Penryn is where we're going to be in the fourth quarter," Kilroy said. "It's really gaining and sustaining our innovation model."

Over the next couple of years, Intel said it plans to introduce a new micro-architecture around Penryn, code-named Nehalem. In the future, the company plans to introduce a 32nm product line, code-named Westmere; and a new micro-architecture around that line, code-named Gesher.

Kilroy and Boyd Davis, general manager of Intel's Server and Platform Group Marketing, who also attended the meeting, reiterated Intel's commitment to Itanium, a non-x86 server chip that competes with SPARC from Sun Microsystems and POWER-architecture based processors from IBM, both RISC-based chips. A major Itanium customer is computer maker Hewlett-Packard.

While acknowledging that the Itanium market is not as high volume as Xeon, it's still a profitable business. "We want to bring volume economics to this market," Davis said.

At the same time, Intel planned to eventually take Xeon into Itanium's traditional mainframe and higher end markets. "We're not going to hold back on Xeon," Kilroy said.

The executives also identified three key market segments where they said Intel was gaining momentum: Wall Street, high-performance computing and mega-datacenters. Internet companies, such as Google and Amazon.com, dominated the latter server market. These huge datacenters accounted for between 3% and 5% of the global server market, Kilroy said.

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