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Intel introduces quad-core embedded Xeon processor, chip upgrades

Intel announces a new quad-core Xeon processor and details the future of its Penryn and Nehalem chips

Intel Corp. introduced today the quad-core Intel Xeon processor 5300 series for the embedded segment, following details of its Penryn and Nehalem chips last week.

The quad-core embedded processors are among the 11 quad-core products Intel has brought to market in less than six months.

Intel also announced the IP Network Server NSC2U, powered by two 5300 series processors, enabling high I/O throughput and performance capabilities for a variety of network-centric applications.

The quad-core Intel Xeon processors E5335 and E5345 are available today. The Intel IP Network Server NSC2U is targeted for July 2007 availability.

More on quad-core processors:
Intel intros low-voltage quad-core Xeon ahead of AMD

AMD high efficiency Opteron chips push the thermal envelope

The next generation of Intel

Last week, Intel announced plans for its next-generation Penryn family of processors slated for the second half of this year, followed by significant enhancements to the Nehalem family of chips in 2008.

Nehalem, Intel's next-generation microarchitecture slated for production in 2008 will have up to eight cores and a highly scaleable architecture, Intel reported.

Some initial disclosures of Nehalem include scalable performance, one-to-16 threads, up to eight processing cores, scalable cache sizes and simultaneous multithreading similar to Intel's hyper-threading technology, which is currently available on some Xeon processors.

Multithreaded server software applications can execute threads in parallel within each processor in a server platform for faster performance.

Nehalem's new instruction sets include Application Targeted Accelerators (ATA) to deliver low-latency, lower power fixed-function capabilities for applications and SSE4 -- the fourth generation of single instruction, multiple data (SIMD), expanding Intel's 64-bit instruction set architecture (ISA).

Applications that will benefit from the enhancements include graphics, video encoding and processing, Web and application servers, and some high-performance applications, like databases, Intel reported.

But arguably, the most significant change to Nehalem is the integration of the memory controller into the CPU. Intel calls this its "Nehalem system interconnect" and is similar to Advanced Micro Devices Inc.'s (AMD) direct connect architecture. Previous Intel designs were based on a front-side bus, which reportedly causes information traffic bottlenecking.

AMD Athlon 64 processor and the AMD Opteron processor addressed bottlenecking by integrating a DDR memory controller into the processor back in 2003.

The new product announcement led to a rise in Intel's stock and had the opposite affect on rival AMD in the market, but AMD plans to leapfrog Intel when the company releases its native quad-core processor in coming months, code-named Barcelona.

AMD also criticized Intel, saying the company is still trying to improve its quad-core chip to meet AMD architecture standards.

"Our competitor's announcement today is further validation that their current architecture will not be competitive with Barcelona until they make this transition that we showed the industry in 2003 with direct connect architecture," said Randy Allen, corporate vice president, server and workstation business at AMD. "The dual-core performance leadership we have today is building a bridge to Barcelona and the increased performance it will deliver in a non-disruptive fashion. We are not requiring our customers to make wholesale infrastructure changes in order to achieve incremental performance gains."

The enhancements to Intel's chips are simply a matter of evolution and not directly related to AMD's architecture, said Gordon Haff, an analyst with Illuminata Inc.

"I see Intel's moves here more as a response to the technology and market environment than as a direct response to AMD [technology, like direct connect architecture], per se," Haff said. "There's never been any question that Intel would implement a serial connection to memory. That's pretty much mandated by the laws of physics as things get faster and by the need to transfer increasing amounts of data to keep multi-core chips fed.

"Certainly AMD's direct connect architecture is one of the features that has made Opteron fast, but any of these features need to be considered in the context of the processor and system architecture as a whole … Arguably, Intel should have moved more aggressively toward serialized memory links, but it's a more complicated matter than implementing XYZ standalone feature."

Penryn processor enhancements

Penryn is the code name for a family of desktop, notebook and server chips based on Intel's Core microarchitecture and is essentially the next-generation Core 2 Duo processor.

"Penryn family processors should provide higher performance across all applications. This is because it is based on the Intel Core microarchitecture, which is at the base of Intel's current Core 2 Duo and Xeon dual- and quad-core processors, and adds new features and instruction support for even higher performance," said Josh Lefkowitz, Intel spokesperson.

Penryn will speed up virtual machine transition times by an average of 25% to 75% through microarchitecture improvements, with no virtual machine software changes, Intel reported.

Virtualization partitions or compartmentalizes a single computer so that it can run separate operating systems and software, and is utilized well by quad-core processors.

Both the Penryn and Nehalem processors are based on Intel's 45nm process technology.

Intel has more than fifteen 45nm product designs in various stages of development and will have two 45nm manufacturing fabs in production by the end of the year. A total of four will be in production by the second half of 2008 to deliver tens of millions of these processors to the market.

Intel will develop six Penryn processors, as well as dual- and quad-core Nehalem server processors under the Intel Xeon processor brand name.

The new Penryn processors have up to a 50 % larger L2 cache. Dual-core Penryn processors will feature up to a 6 MB L2 cache and quad-core processors up to a 12 MB L2 cache -- a memory reservoir where frequently accessed data can be stored for more rapid access.

The Penryn chips will be available in all segments currently served by the Intel Core 2 Duo and Xeon processor families in Q4 of this year for most of the chips, Intel reported.

A processor for higher end server multiprocessing systems is also under development.

Let us know what you think about the story; email: Bridget Botelho, News Writer

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