Intel's server chips take a number, and a Pentium M

Intel's server chips take a number, and a Pentium M

Intel will bring model numbers to server chips and its Pentium M architecture to blade servers over the next 12 months.

Intel is soon expected to announce plans to introduce a model number naming scheme for its server processors starting later this year when the first dual-core Itanium 2 processor is released.

The company also will announce a new processor for blade servers based on its dual-core Yonah mobile processor design. The new processor, code-named Sossaman, will be the first processor based on the low-power Pentium M architecture to be specifically targeted for products other than notebook PCs.

Intel is expected to eventually make a derivative of that architecture the backbone of its future desktop and server processors, although it has not publicly confirmed those plans.

It has already introduced model numbers for its desktop and notebook processors.

The company historically labelled its processors by their clock speed, but it was forced to introduce a new naming scheme in March 2004 after it became prohibitively difficult to increase the clock speed of its flagship Pentium 4 processor amid power consumption concerns.

There is a direct relationship between clock speed and power consumption, and Intel's engineers came to the conclusion last year that it would be a waste of engineering resources to make its Pentium 4 processors run reliably at clock speeds faster than 3.8GHz.

Instead, Intel introduced a processor numbering system intended to communicate performance characteristics beyond just clock speed, such as cache memory and additional features such as hyperthreading technology. Its main rival, Advanced Micro Devices, has had its own model number system in place for several years.

Server processors would now be sorted into one of four different categories, director of marketing for Intel's server platform group, Rick Brown, said.

Itanium 2 processors and chipsets will fall into the 9000 series, Xeon MP processors and chipsets for servers with four or more chips will fall into the 7000 series, and Xeon DP processors and chipsets for two-way servers will fall into the 5000 series.

Intel will also introduce 3000 series server processors based on its Pentium D chip for one-way servers.

For example, Intel will introduce a dual-core Xeon processor called Dempsey in the first quarter of 2006. The first chip in that series might be labelled the Xeon 5010 processor, while a more powerful version might be called the Xeon 5020, Brown said.

Chipsets associated with those Xeon processors would have a letter at the end of the four-digit label, such as the hypothetical 5000x chipset, he said.

"We are trying to more accurately represent the performance," Brown said.

The first server processor to receive a model number, the dual-core Montecito Itanium 2 processor, is expected to launch in the fourth quarter.

Server customers are inherently more savvy than their consumer counterparts and have long been aware that there is more to the performance equation than clock speed, senior analyst with Illuminata, Gordon Haff, said.

"But when the nomenclature gets totally out of step with the technology, you need to make a change every now and then," he said.

Future chip designs in this market would consist of multicore chips that would probably coalesce around a tight range of clock speeds, Haff said. This meant that the primary differences between future processors would be the number of cores, the types of cores, and the connections between cores, and not their clock speeds.

With that transition well under way, Intel needed a new naming scheme to communicate performance, he said.

Intel is expected to provide more details about Dempsey and Paxville, a dual-core Xeon processor for multichip servers, at upcoming conferences such as the Fall Intel Developer Forum and the Hot Chips conference in August, Brown said. Sossaman will also get an airing at the Fall IDF conference.

It was designed to fit into dense blade servers that could not tolerate more than 31 watts of power consumption from the processor, Brown said. In order to do this, Intel is using its Yonah design as the basis for Sossaman, with a few tweaks to make the processor more stable and reliable for server customers, Brown said.

Yonah is the dual-core version of the Pentium M processor, which changed Intel's attitude toward clock speed and power consumption when it was first released in 2002.

The Pentium M runs at slower clock speeds than Pentium 4 processors, but the latest Pentium M chips are just as powerful as their faster and hotter desktop counterparts, according to Intel executives.

Intel has started to promote the idea of using Pentium M processors in small desktops and entertainment PCs but has not yet released a chip specifically tailored for those devices.

The company has announced three future processors, known as Conroe, Meron, and Woodcrest, that are expected to use a low-power architecture similar to that of the Pentium M, rather than the Netburst architecture used by current Pentium 4 and Xeon chips, according to sources.

Brown declined to comment on the architecture used by Woodcrest, which appeared on an Intel presentation outlining the new Sossaman processor. Intel would also carry the power efficiency theme forward later this year with the release of new Xeon DP chips before the dual-core Dempsey processors are introduced, Brown said.

Three new Xeon DP chips would be released in three different power consumption categories, with a 3.8GHz Xeon DP processor leading the way, he said. A 2.8GHz version wouldl also be released to fit into a midrange power category, with the low-power version's clock speed yet to be released.

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