Intel’s Xeon ready to enter dual-core era

Intel's dual-core Xeon chips are set to arrive this week

Ahead of its original plan, but still months after the competition, Intel appears ready to launch its dual-core Xeon processors this week according to some sources.

An HP spokeswoman distributed an email message last week outlining the forthcoming announcement of new dual-core ProLiant servers. Separately, Intel Japan representatives invited journalists to a forthcoming event to celebrate the launch of dual-core server and workstation chips.

Last week, Dell provided a preview of its dual-core systems and it said the systems would ship in the first half of October but declined to provide any other details about the Xeon chips that would ship with those systems. Also, IBM has announced the release of three-entry level servers that will be available with dual-core chips by the middle of October.

An Intel spokeswoman declined to comment on the potential launch date for the dual-core Xeon chips.

The Xeon launch will mark the end of a significant gap in performance between Intel’s single-core Xeon processors and Advanced Micro Devices’s dual-core Opteron processors. As it did with the transition to 64-bit technology, AMD introduced a new design feature — multicore technology — several months ahead of the world’s largest chip maker.

During 2004, a bad year for Intel by anyone’s standards, the company was forced to release a 64-bit version of Xeon to match AMD’s initial success with Opteron. It also had to quickly overhaul its processor design strategy in hopes of getting dual-core chips for desktops and servers out in time to compete with AMD’s plans, as outlined by an Intel engineer earlier this year.

Intel chose to release dual-core chips for desktops first in part because it was easier to quickly validate dual-core chips for desktops, says Jonathan Douglas, a principal engineer in Intel’s digital enterprise group. Server chips require more testing and validation before they can be released and Intel needed to make sure it got the server products right, he says. Intel did release a version of its dual-core Pentium D processor — really a desktop chip — for low-end one-socket servers in July.

The company’s original plan was to release Bensley, a dual-core version of Xeon, as its first dual-core server processor in the first quarter of 2006. Bensley is still on track for the first quarter but Intel was able to move up the launch date for Paxville, a dual-core chip for both two-socket and four-socket servers, in time for an October launch.

Some analysts believe Intel’s dual-core chips will still be hobbled by their front-side bus design. Intel uses an external memory bus to connect the processor to memory, while AMD integrates that function directly onto the chip, which improves performance.

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