Intel Debuts Key Parts of Its 64-bit Xeon Strategy

Intel on Tuesday launched its "Truland" platform, which represents the first time the chip giant has offered x86-based 64-bit extensions for the Intel Xeon processor MP chips designed for four-way and larger servers.

Intel recently reorganized to develop chipsets and processors together formally as platforms, rather than relying on the more ad hoc partnerships the separate chip and chipset development teams necessarily formed in the past.

The Truland platform includes the "Twincastle" chipset and the "Potomac" and "Cranford" chip families, which plug into Twincastle. Intel built Twincastle's sockets to accept the dual-core Intel Xeon processor MP when those processors ship in the first quarter of 2006.

"These capabilities are ideal for the mid-tier solutions," said Intel CTO Pat Gelsinger, specifying mid-tier applications, departmental and SMB databases and server consolidation. Gelsinger took the opportunity to plug Intel's other, older 64-bit architecture, the Itanium Processor Family. "This is complementing the need for the continuing migration of the entire data center [back end] to the Itanium," Gelsinger said. Now Intel can deliver "end-to-end 64-bit, from the desktop to the back end of the data center, all of that delivered on the Intel architecture," he said.

Although the dual-core capabilities aren't yet available, Microsoft corporate vice president Andy Lees laid out Microsoft's view of the importance of the Twincastle chipset for large servers in enabling both 64-bit and multi-core computing. "It's like putting a turbocharger and a supercharger to Moore's Law," Lees said. Microsoft plans to begin shipping 64-bit versions of Windows Server 2003 at its annual Windows Hardware Engineering Conference, referred to as WinHEC, next month in Seattle, he added.

In the mix of new Xeon processors, Intel is coming out with three of the “Potomac”-class CPUs and two “Cranford”-class CPUs. The top-of-the-line 64-bit Intel Xeon processor MP 3.33 GHz with 8 MB of Level 3 cache starts at $3,692 each in quantities of 1,000, while the low-end 64-bit Intel Xeon processor MP 3.16 GHz with 1 MB of Level 2 cache costs $722 in those quantities. The “Potomac” chips range down to 2.83 GHz and 4 MB of L3 cache at $1,177 in quantity. The top “Cranford” CPU runs at 3.66 GHz, has 1 MB of L2 cache, and is priced at $963 in quantity.

Twincastle, officially named the Intel E8500 chipset, provides a 667 MHz dual, independent front-side bus and is designed with 10.6 GBs of system bandwidth, more than three times the bandwidth of the previous generation, according to Intel. These and other features will provide the infrastructure to support forthcoming dual-core Xeon MP CPUs, including "Paxville," which is set to ship in the first quarter of 2006.

In addition to Microsoft's Lees, Gelsinger was joined for a launch news conference by executives from Dell, HP, IBM and Unisys. Dell announced new servers compatible with the Truland platform last week. HP unveiled new Truland-ready versions of the ProLiant DL580 and ML570. IBM last month announced the third-generation of its Enterprise X Architecture, which will support Truland platform processors. A Unisys executive said the company would announce Truland plans for the ES7000 server line in the next few weeks.

Paul Gottsegen, vice president of enterprise marketing at Dell, says the five new Truland-based chips bring a new opportunity for customers.

"It allows our customers to determine, depending on the application they have, which SKU is perfect for their application," Gottsegen said. While the huge cache on the high-end chips will help with demanding high-end databases, Intel has introduced a new twist with the high-clock rate, small-cache processors. "[Those chips could] get some of our two-way customers up into the four-way realm," he said.

Brad Anderson, senior vice president and general manager for HP's industry standard servers, says the Twincastle innovations could recharge the four-way server category. "The four-way space has not kept up with the two-way space over the years. With Twincastle and [these] Xeons, we believe this is a great step in … putting a four-way platform on a price-performance curve with a two-way platform," Anderson said.

Of course, the announcement, while expected, does carry some taint of the marketing showdown that Intel is engaged in with AMD in high-performance computing. AMD is planning on shipping its dual-core processors later this year and, in some sense, Intel’s recent spate of Xeon announcements reflects that.

“They’re really trying to position hard against AMD [because] AMD’s been chewing them up pretty good [in the marketplace] lately,” says Rob Enderle, lead analyst at Enderle Group in San Jose, Calif.

Still, the rollout is also a good opportunity for Intel to touch base with big customers and drive sales based on Xeon’s advantages, not the least of which is Intel’s focus on marketing the new CPUs and their accompanying chipset as a platform. “They’re optimized as a system, which means that you’re getting the most for your money,” Enderle adds.

Intel also announced a new service for developers. Intel Software Network, a collection of software development products, tools, training and expert advice is designed to help software developers bring more innovative products to market even faster on Intel platforms, the company said in a statement. While Intel offered similar programs in the past, they were targeted almost exclusively at ISVs. The new program extends the service to corporate developers.

ENT editor Scott Bekker contributed to this report.

About the Author

Stuart J. Johnston has covered technology, especially Microsoft, since February 1988 for InfoWorld, Computerworld, Information Week, and PC World, as well as for Enterprise Developer, XML & Web Services, and .NET magazines.