Let's admit that most of us are interested in quad-core processors because they're buzzworthy, and because we'd all like to own a really hot desktop PC. The truth is, where quad is really important is in servers, and that's why today's announcement by Intel of its Xeon 7300 Series MP processor (aka Tigerton) is so significant.That's because Tigerton will fuel a whole new generation of 16-core (yes, 16!) blade servers from major OEMs like Sun Microsystems. The 16 comes in because the "MP" in the "Xeon 7300 Series MP" nomenclature of the chip stands for "multiple processor."
In this context, it doesn't mean multiple processors on the chip, but multiple processor sockets on the motherboard. True, a Tigerton on its own has four cores. It's also part of Intel's Caneland platform, which supports motherboards with up to four sockets each. Four cores on each Tigerton times those four Caneland sockets gets you to those 16-core blade servers.
Quite frankly, I've always found blade servers to be a bit of a yawner. However, if you're a manager charged with consolidating your IT infrastructure while increasing your CPU capacity and at the same time reining in energy costs, I can see where a 16-core board might be the beginning of an appealing tale.
Add to that the even more important news that Intel says is confident it's achieved solid power-dissipation numbers for Tigerton. Information released around the time of the Intel Developer Forum earlier this year said there would be two 7300 MP parts, at 80 W and 150 W.
In a short video posted on an Intel blog today, Kirk Skaugen, VP of the company's server products group, focused, as perhaps one might expect, on the lower-powered version. Skaugen said that many in the industry were watching to see whether Intel could indeed deliver on its energy efficiency promises and that achieving the 50-W envelope proves Intel indeed has done so.
He also said this:
"We're going to be able to get down to a 50W envelope on the microprocessor. ...That means we'll be able to deliver up to two times the performance per watt of the previous generation [of Xeon MP]. . . We'll see a brand new set of blade designs from some of the larger OEMs in the world as four-socket becomes more mainstream."
While Tigerton is made on Intel's 65-nm process, it'll be followed in the not-too-distant future by a 45-nm MP part. This should enable Intel to deliver higher performance within the same 80-W and 150-W thermal envelopes.
The final big take-way from the Tigerton news is that, when AMD said a few years ago that the big battleground would be on energy efficiency and performance per watt, it was right on the money. Skaugen's report will cast even more critical eyes upon AMD's upcoming Barcelona quad-core server processor.
Expect the buzz about benchmarks -- for power, performance, and efficiency -- to get a lot noisier very, very soon.