New Intel chip may help NT

Intel's upcoming Pentium II Zeon may help some users boost the performance of their Windows NT servers enough to keep them happy until NT 5.0 ships some time next year. For nearly two and a half years, Microsoft has said Windows NT 5.0 will have much faster speed than previous versions and the ability to handle more processors. But there is no official release date in sight, so users don't expect any change until some time next year.

Intel's upcoming Pentium II Zeon may help some users boost the performance of their Windows NT servers enough to keep them happy until NT 5.0 ships some time next year.

For nearly two and a half years, Microsoft has said Windows NT 5.0 will have much faster speed than previous versions and the ability to handle more processors. But there is no official release date in sight, so users don’t expect any change until some time next year.

The Zeon chip, based on the Pentium II architecture, is expected to ship at the end of June. Zeon is an interim chip release meant to bridge the gap between Intel Corp.’s existing 32-bit Pentiums and the upcoming 64-bit Merced chip that is due next year.

It addresses 36 bits of memory at a time rather than 32 bits and will run at 400 MHz when it is introduced, according to sources close to Intel. That isn’t as powerful as a 64-bit chip, but it still represents an exponential increase in power.

Zeon is aimed at workstations and servers and can scale up to four processors. In comparison, today’s Pentium II processors scale to only two.

“The Pentium II Zeon chip will give a 40 to 50% improvement in performance for NT,” said Joe Barkan, an analyst at GartnerGroup Inc. in Stamford, Connecticut. “This is going to solve a lot of problems.”

All of that adds up to what industry observers expect to be an exponential improvement in performance. Actual performance will be tested once the chip hits the market.

Franklyn Athias, head of systems at Comcast Cable Corp. in Philadelphia, said his NT machines can handle the tasks he uses them for because they are dealing with only a few applications. But if his business grows at the rate he plans, Athias said he will need the power of a faster chip.

“I expect I’ll have five or six additional services on NT,” Athias said. “We may put telephony on there, so the more horsepower I have, the more people I can add onto that box and the more control I’ll have. With the new chip, we should be flying. It’s going to be a quick machine.”

Brian Brumit, a director at Coopers & Lybrand LLP in New York, said NT isn’t industrial-strength, but it does what he needs it to do. But computers are like cars — faster is better.

“Wouldn’t you want a faster chip on your computer?” Brumit asked. “It’s kind of the yin and yang. Software gets slow. Hardware comes out and makes things faster. Software adds more features, and hardware has to respond again.”

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