Intel stepped up its attack on the server and workstation market this week with the launch of its Pentium III Xeon processor, which features clock speeds of 500MHz and 550MHz.
Intel hopes the new chips will help it penetrate the lucrative high end of the workstation and server markets, where RISC-type processors from the likes of Hewlett-Packard and Sun Microsystems currently hold sway.
"We will continue to move our architecture as far and as fast as we can into this expanding market," Paul Otellini, executive vice president and general manager of the Intel architecture business group, said at a press conference to launch the new chips.
For workstation users, the new processors should boost performance of 3D applications used for digital content creation and mechanical design, said Peter ffoulkes, a principal analyst with Dataquest in California.
"They should also lower the entry cost for a good 3D graphics computer," ffoulkes said.
Many of the workstations announced were priced at around $US4000, although Dell Computer is offering a 500MHz Precision workstation for under $US3000.
For servers, Intel said the Pentium III Xeon will boost performance of database and data mining applications, enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems and streaming-media applications that broadcast content on the Internet.
"Any application using TCP/IP can get up to 10 per cent better performance," Otellini said.
Besides bumping the clock speed up a notch -- today's fastest Pentium II Xeon runs at 450MHz -- the Pentium III includes Intel's SIMD instructions, which are designed to boost streaming-media and memory-intensive applications.
"In some ways Intel is playing catch up here, because the RISC vendors have had those [SIMD] capabilities for a while," ffoulkes said.
Intel also said this week it will release in the second quarter a chipset called Profusion, which will allow up to eight processors to be used in a single server. Server systems using the chipset are expected to become available in the third quarter.
The 500MHz Pentium III Xeon was released with three Level 2 cache sizes: 512KB, 1MB and 2MB. A 550MHz version will be released next month with 512KB of Level 2 cache, increasing to 2MB in the third quarter. The first servers based on the 550MHz processor are expected to ship in the third quarter, Intel said.
The company expects to crank up the speed of the Pentium III Xeon to 600MHz by the end of the year, Otellini said.
Dell, Compaq, Fujitsu, Gateway 2000, Hewlett-Packard and IBM are among the companies that announced workstations and servers based on the Pentium III this week.
A 500MHz processor with 512KB cache costs $US931 if bought in quantities of 1000. The 1MB and 2MB versions are priced at $US1980 and $US3692, respectively. Pricing for the 550MHz version wasn't announced.