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Intel intros new quad-core Xeons as AMD Barcelona nears

With AMD's quad-core Barcelona processor slated for systems next month, Intel announced two new quad-core Xeons that feature improved virtualization capabilities, performance enhancements and new energy efficiencies.

Intel Corp. is launching two more quad-core Xeon processors today, the X5365 and L5335. They feature added virtualization capabilities, enhanced energy efficiency and performance and a new pricing strategy to move the enterprise to quad-core systems. Both processors are "drop-in" compatible with select existing Intel server platforms.

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

Intel introduces quad-core embedded Xeon processor, upgrades

AMD quad-core Barcelona supported by OS heavyweights

The Intel Xeon Processor X5365 is the industry's first 3.0 GHz quad-core processor to fit inside a standard 120W power envelope, and has a front-side bus (FSB) speed of 1333 MHz, Intel reported. The Intel Xeon Processor L5335 runs at 2.0 GHz and has a 1333 MHz FSB within a 50W power envelope -- or 12.5 watts per processing core.

These new quad-core processors hit just as rival Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) in Sunnyvale, Calif., begins shipping its native quad-core processor, Barcelona, to vendors for market availability in September.

AMD's quad-core processors will ship in both standard and highly efficient (68W and 95W) options at launch. They will include PowerNow technology, which detects computer utilization rates and feeds power according to fluctuations. The chip will also have a feature to optimize virtualization called rapid virtualization indexing (or nested page tables), enabling more efficient memory handling, according to AMD.

In response to news of Intel's enhancements, AMD spokesperson Phil Hughes said, "Intel can raise the FSB speed as much as it wants; it cannot overcome the shortcomings of its legacy architecture vs. AMD's Direct Connect Architecture. … Ultimately, a faster FSB does not overcome the architectural bottlenecks inherent in such a design."

AMD's quad-core offerings include a 1.9 GHz version power band that will outperform the competition's offerings in the same thermal bands across most typical server workloads, Hughes said.

"Customers are looking for the best possible performance per watt, which is delivered by our 95- and 68-watt processors," Hughes said. "Also, you need to remember, Intel customers pay system-level power consumption penalties because they have not integrated the memory controller and they continue to use more power-hungry memory technology with FB-DIMM. The new reality is that customers are no longer willing to sacrifice energy consumption for raw performance."

Analysts are cautious not to make any presumptions when it comes to comparing AMD's Barcelona and Intel's Xeon quad-core offerings.

"Intel was able to get a first-mover advantage with quad-core and has continued to bring out enhanced versions of that product that improved their position in the market. It remains to be seen how successfully AMD will be at gaining back market share from Intel," said Ken Cayton, an analyst at Framingham, Mass.-based IDC. "Barcelona appears to be a very good product, certainly better than the current dual-core offerings. …It's just too early to call the results of that competition before Barcelona systems are available for real comparisons."

Intel's enhanced Xeon processors will work best for applications like simultaneous design and analysis transactions, improving rendering performance and managing faster analytics for industries such as financial services, according to Intel.

Xeon's virtualization optimization

Intel also integrated advanced technology capabilities into the Xeon Processors X5365 and L5335 to streamline virtualization and further improve energy efficiency. In addition to Intel Virtualization Technology, which increases the efficiency of virtualization software and enables 64-bit guest operating system support, the processors also feature new processor extensions for improved interrupt handling in virtualization of 32-bit Microsoft Windows operating systems.

This new virtualization hardware improves virtual machine (VM) access to the Advanced Programmable Interrupt Controller by preventing unnecessary VM exits, Intel reported. This reduces the overhead of the virtualization software, thus improving virtualization performance in the 5% to 15% range, depending on the workload, an Intel spokesperson said.

Intel lowers energy consumption

As part of Intel's efforts to ensure that system builders can meet energy efficiency requirements and end users can continue to manage their overall energy consumption, the X5365 and L5335 processors include a new energy technology that reduces idle power usage by up to 50%, the company claims.

In terms of power efficiency, the L5335 is the most energy-efficient server processor from Intel per core. Intel ships a 40W version of the Woodcrest processors, which have two cores. So while Woodcrest features the lower wattage per processor, the new L5335 quad-core, at just 12.5 watts per core, delivers the most efficiency in Intel's product line, an Intel spokesperson said.

In addition to including this technology on the new quad-core processors, Intel's entire volume server processor line will take advantage of this new lower idle power utilization. "Across the Clovertown (quad-core) and Woodcrest (dual-core) product lines, idle power has been reduced by up to 50%. This lowers average server power consumption over time during normal server operation and also saves money for Intel end users," an Intel spokesperson said.

IDC's Cayton said both the power efficiency and virtualization enhancements will affect adoption.

"In many cases where you have large data centers doing consolidation/virtualization of resources, then both [virtualization and power efficiency] are important factors. Looking at the global server environment, the impact of both power and virtualization are limited to a portion of the market. The bigger impact is the perception of new and better technology," Cayton said. "End users like to know they are buying the best and latest technology and that they have options in their purchase. In this case they can buy lower power or more performance, plus they will have new virtualization capability and efficiencies."

Intel drops prices

Intel has reduced the prices of all Quad-Core Intel Xeon 5300 processors, and also priced volume 5100 dual-core and 5300 quad-core series processors of the same frequency the same. That way, customers receive improved performance of quad-cores at the same price as a similar-frequency dual-core processor, an Intel spokesperson said.

Intel has historically priced processors to drive adoption and match its ability to produce products in its factories, Cayton said. To do this, Intel prices the new products the same or nearly the same as the old product -- in this case, quad-core vs. dual-core.

"Their overall pricing strategy is obviously influenced by their competitors, but at this point their pricing is more a reflection of their factory capacity and their desire to replace dual-core with quad-core," Cayton said.

As of August 9, the price in 1,000 unit quantities for Intel Quad-Core Intel Xeon processor X5365 3.0 GHz 1333 MHz 120W will go for $1,172, and the Intel Quad-Core Intel Xeon processor L5335 2.0 GHz 1333MHz 50W for $380.

A number of systems vendors are supporting the new processors, including Dell Inc., Fujitsu Siemens Computers, Hewlett-Packard Co., IBM, Silicon Graphics Inc., SuperMicro Computer Inc., Rackable Systems Inc., Verari Systems Inc. and more than 40 others.

Let us know what you think about the story; e-mail Bridget Botelho, News Writer

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