Intel adds on-ramps to processor road map

Intel is planning a busy next couple of months. The chip maker will announce the launch date and pricing details for its eight-way Xeon processor for servers on August 23; mobile Celeron processors on September 15; and a new chip set for Pentium III on September 27. But before all that there's Monday's launch of the 600-MHz Pentium III.

Intel is planning a busy next couple of months. The chip maker is preparing to officially announce the launch date and pricing details for its eight-way Xeon processor for servers on August 23; mobile Celeron processors on September 15; and a new chip set for Pentium III, which will support 133-MHz frontside bus speeds and higher speed memory on September 27.

On Monday, Intel is also announcing a 600-MHz version of the Pentium III and a 500-MHz version of its desktop Celeron chip.

As Intel completes the first full year of its market segmentation strategy, the busy schedule reflects what the future will be like from Intel with a continual stream of new products coming out during the year for servers, high performance desktops, mobiles, and value line PCs.

"Intel is introducing four times as many products as they used to do, so they are a lot busier," said Nathan Brookwood, chief analyst at Insight 64, in Saratoga, Calif.

The first announcement will come on Aug. 23, when Intel announces a 550-MHz version of its Xeon processor for servers that will use the Profusion chip set for eight-way processing. The processor and chip set will allow a maximum of 2MB of cache, have a 100-MHz frontside bus, include the SIMD extensions for faster processing of multimedia files and address as much as 64GB of main memory.

Up until now, eight-way capability has been the domain of companies, such as NEC, Sequent, SGI, Sun, and Tandem, that address an IT space higher up in the enterprise and typically run systems with Unix. NEC, for example, is currently shipping its Express HV 8600 which offers eight-way processing using its own Aqua II chip set and Level 3 cache.

However, Insight 64's Brookwood sees a potential conflict between chief financial officers (CFOs) wanting to be more mainstream and chief information officers (CIOs) skeptical of the scalability and performance of the Intel solution, especially when running on a Microsoft-based operating system.

"When Windows 2000 and Profusion comes out even if the CFO twists the CIO's arm and says buy it, they are not just going to buy it. They are going to kick the tires and have a relatively slow uptake," said Brookwood.

According to Brookwood, doubling the number of processors does not mean doubling the performance and IT managers will want to take their time testing these new systems.

Silicon Graphics, which currently offers a wide array of Unix and Windows NT-based servers, is one company that will enter the eight-way market in the near future, but is choosing to wait until Microsoft can develop an operating system capable of handling greater processor counts.

According to Jan Silverman, vice president of marketing at SGI Computer Systems Business Unit, in Mountain View, Calif., the real issue surrounding eight-way acceptance is whether or not Microsoft is willing to put in the work necessary to engineer a sufficiently scalable architecture.

"Microsoft's focus is in the volume space, so they'll get there eventually because the trend in CPU count is increasing," Silverman said. "Now how fast that accelerates is going to be an interesting discussion because Microsoft will be there when there's a significant demand, but the measure of demand for Microsoft is different than that for hardware vendors."

If SGI's product map is any indication, Silverman's belief would be that Microsoft will have a scalable enough architecture available by early next year, which is when SGI plans to offer eight-way servers.

The Intel product onslaught will continue on Sept. 15 when the company introduces the Mobile Celeron at both 433 MHz and 466 MHz.

One analyst believes the faster mobile Celerons are targeted at end-users whose interest may not go beyond processor performance.

"What Intel is doing is they are playing a megahertz song with the users. They are taking the Celeron with a smaller cache than the Pentium IIs or IIIs, and doing a megahertz uplift. The result is performance looks just like those Pentium II and Pentium III numbers," said Gerry Purdy, chief analyst at Mobile Insights, in Mountain View, Calif.

"It levels the psychological playing field with the user thinking this must be the inexpensive version of the other chips," Purdy said.

Finally on Sept. 27, technology will veer slightly off the straight performance when Intel introduces the 820 chip set, which will enable a 133-MHz frontside bus as well as support the faster Rambus memory technology. The Pentium IIIs to be introduced on that day will have speeds of 533 MHz and 600 MHz, even though a 600-MHz Pentium III will be also introduced on Monday. The faster system bus, however, makes the difference.

"The higher the core frequency of the processor the more a slower bus begins to make a difference," said Brookwood. There will be about a 2 percent to 3 percent performance difference between two similar systems performing at the same clock speed but one with a faster bus, said Brookwood.

Intel Corp., in Santa Clara, Calif., can be reached at www.intel.com.

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