Intel finds flaw in Xeon design

Despite its best efforts, Intel has been unable to clear a problem with the design of its four-way Pentium II Xeon server chips, scheduled to debut next Monday.

The problem, or erratum, may be in the central processing unit (CPU) package itself, according to industry sources. It might also be in the 450NX core-logic chip set, which is at the heart of four-processor systems.

Original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) were beginning to test their four-way designs when they found a problem that causes systems to reboot seemingly at random, said Kelly Henry, a senior IDC analyst. As a result, systems scheduled for shipment soon after the introduction of the chips could be delayed.

"I'm not sure how much it's going to delay things," Henry said.

The problem does not affect one- or two-way designs built around the 440GX workstation core-logic chip, which will also be introduced Monday, said Nathan Brookwood, principal analyst at Dataquest. And it does not impact single-processor Pentium II or Celeron PCs.

"It's only a server issue," Brookwood said.

Most server vendors do not expect to start shipping server systems when the Pentium II Xeon is introduced, Brookwood noted. These high-end systems take longer to design and test, and customers take longer to make a buying decision, he explained.

When the Pentium Pro was introduced, for example, multiprocessor systems did not appear for about six months. Brookwood does not expect Pentium II Xeon servers to lag quite that far, even with the design erratum, but systems may not appear until the fourth quarter of this year.

The problem appears to be in the circuitry that checks Level 2 cache memory to make sure all the CPUs in a multiprocessor system are using the same data, Brookwood said.

Although all new P6 generation Intel processors, including the Celeron, Pentium II and Pentium II Xeon, use the same silicon chip design, Intel determines which of these products a particular chip will become, then "bonds out", or connects, the circuitry needed for one-, two-, or four-way applications.

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