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Are We Entering the Summer of Servers?

By David Needle (Send Email)
Posted Jun 27, 2006


Intel never sounded quite so bullish when it was promising to recapture the performance crown as it did Monday, when it proclaimed to have done just that.

With the release of Woodcrest, the competition between Intel and AMD is again heating up, and new servers are being released in spades.

As expected, the chip vendor unveiled its latest Xeon processor, the dual-core "Woodcrest," at simultaneous media events in New York and San Francisco. The new 5100 series Xeon is Intel's first server chip based on its more energy-efficient Core microarchitecture.

"We're back," crowed Tom Kilroy, vice president, Digital Enterprise for Intel. "We now have undeniable leadership in performance and performance-per-watt and unique platform level differentiation."

AMD  will make a less dramatic upgrade to its Opteron line later this summer, but argues it has the steadier, more upgradeable platform. Intel disputes that notion.

"[AMD's] introducing a new socket, that changes their platform," Pat Gelsinger, senior vice president and general manager of Intel's Digital Enterprise Group, told internetnews.com. "We're launching a new platform and we're not apologizing for that. It will be several lifetimes and years long. There is socket compatibility with it for six different processors."

One performance advantage for AMD has been its use of an on-chip, direct connect memory architecture vs. Intel's approach of extra cache. But Intel thinks it has matched, if not eclipsed, any disadvantage. Woodcrest features improved I/O acceleration for moving data that Gelsinger said is key to enabling Web services or the so-called Web 2.0 era of computing.

"With efficient handling of the I/O workload, we've seen a 50 percent reduction in CPU utilization, and a 50 percent reduction in the amount of traffic in internal buses," said Gelsinger.

Intel said it knows of 200 workstation and server announcements in support of Woodcrest. The company expects the 5100 family to be the fastest ramping product in its history. Pricing runs from $209 to $851 in quantities of at least a thousand. "We've priced Woodcrest for volume right away, not at the high end," Boyd David, Intel's general manager of server platforms, told internetnews.com.

In addition to the major server manufacturers (e.g., IBM, Dell, and HP), Intel had several blue chip companies on hand to further bolster it case. "Woodcrest's performance is stunning," said Greg Brandeau, vice president of technology at movie animation studio Pixar.

Intel said it seeded the market with about a thousand whitebox Woodcrest systems to get feedback, including from Pixar. With the high processing demands of feature length animation, Brandeau said Pixar often runs at one hundred percent server utilization when rendering a movie and was faced with having to build a new data center to accommodate its growing server needs.

For example, he said Pixar's latest movie, Cars, required three times the compute power of the older Toy Story. "Not to make the movie any faster, it's all about making it look better."

Brandeau said the 2.6 GHz Xeon 5100s will fit in 37 percent of the space of the current older, single-core Xeons and yet, draw half the power. "We can get 2.2 times the compute power in the same space," said Brandeau, "because dual-core gives us denser computing."

Another customer, BMW, said it will invest in Woodcrest to better empower its technicians worldwide. One example, an interface to tablet PCs will give the automaker quick access to technical documents and the ability to reprogram software on the spot.

Gartner analyst Martin Reynolds said Intel at a minimum has slowed AMD's momentum and will likely recover some of its lost market share. AMD has about 22 percent of the server market for x86 chips, according to analyst's estimates.

"Intel shows these great benchmarks of how they've improved performance, but what they don't say is how badly they'd fallen behind," Reynolds told internetnews.com.

Erin Joyce contributed to this article.

This article originally appeared on Internetnews.com.

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