Intel's Server Chips Take a NumberCompany to announce new naming scheme, plans to bring its Pentium M architecture to server processors.
Tom Krazit, IDG News Service
Intel 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 is expected to announce this week.
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.
Intel has already introduced model numbers for its desktop and notebook processors. The company historically labeled 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 3.8 GHz.
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 will now be sorted into one of four different categories, says Rick Brown, director of marketing for Intel's server platform group. Itanium 2 processors and chip sets will fall into the 9000 series, Xeon MP processors and chip sets for servers with four or more chips will fall into the 7000 series, and Xeon DP processors and chip sets 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 labeled the Xeon 5010 processor, while a more powerful version might be called the Xeon 5020, Brown says. Chip sets associated with those Xeon processors will have a letter at the end of the four-digit label, such as the hypothetical 5000x chip set, he says.
"We're trying to more accurately represent the performance," Brown says. 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, says Gordon Haff, senior analyst with Illuminata, in Nashua, New Hampshire. "But when the nomenclature gets totally out of step with the technology, you need to make a change every now and then," he says.
Future chip designs in this market will consist of multicore chips that will probably coalesce around a tight range of clock speeds, Haff says. This means that the primary differences between future processors will 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 says.
More Details to Come
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 says. Sossaman will also get an airing at the Fall IDF conference.
Sossaman is designed to fit into dense blade servers that cannot tolerate more than 31 watts of power consumption from the processor, Brown says.
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 says. 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 will 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 says. Three new Xeon DP chips will be released in three different power consumption categories, with a 3.8-GHz Xeon DP processor leading the way, he says. A 2.8-GHz version will also be released to fit into a midrange power category, with the low-power version's clock speed yet to be released.