Hardware Today: The Server Processor Market, Have It Your Way

Late last week, Intel, with much fanfare, announced its researchers created the "World's Fastest Silicon Photonics Device," which encodes data into beams of light. While this certainly has the potential to revolutionize computing in the long term, another recent development in the server market is having a more immediate impact: servers that span both 32- and 64-bit angles without software emulation. This week, Hardware Today casts a close eye on what's driving your servers. We take a look at the server processor market with an emphasis on what AMD, IBM, Intel, and Sun are up to, as well as where they stand in the current marketplace hierarchy.

Literally minutes before this column went to press, Intel unveiled plans to offer 64-bit functionality in its 32-bit Xeon chips beginning in the second quarter of this year. This brings Intel head to head with AMD, which in recent weeks seemed to be garnering win after win in the newly created 32/64-bit space.

According to Peter Glaskowsky, principal analyst for In-Stat/MDR, the four processor vendors with the most server sales (once "legacy" systems are filtered out) are, in alphabetical order: AMD (Opteron), IBM (Power, PowerPC), Intel (Xeon, Itanium), and Sun Microsystems (SPARC). This article will highlight the recent developments in each of these vendors' strategies.

The following chart offers a 10,000-foot overview of processor choices available from these vendors.

Major Current Processor Offerings
Manufacturer Processor Architecture Bits Architecture N-Way Maximum
Clock Speed
Bus Speed
Intel Xeon 32-bit x86 1 to 2 3.07 GHz 533 MHz Dual processor, market standard
Xeon MP 32-bit x86 1 to 8 2.0 GHz 400 MHz Multiprocessor, market standard
Itanium 2 64-bit x86 1-128+ 1.50 GHz 400 MHz VLIW, 64-bit OSes only; 32-bit x86 applications run by IA-32 Execution Layer software emulation only, aimed at high end; complex 32-bit OS migration path (compared to Opteron) but much more scalable
AMD Opteron 32/64-bit x86 1 to 8 2.2 GHz 800 MHz Currently the most popular 32/64-bit-architecure, with deployments continuing to grow
Sun Microsystems
UltraSPARC IIIi 64-bit SPARC 1 to 4 1.28 GHz 200 MHz Less-scalable, less-expensive version of the SPARC III design
UltraSPARC III 64-bit SPARC 1 to 106 1.2 GHz 150 MHz Sun's most widely deployed SPARC server
UltraSPARC IV 64-bit SPARC 1 to 72 1.2 GHz 150 MHz Just released (2/10); executes threads in parallel; so can run 144 threads in 72 processor system, better than SPARC IV.
IBM POWER 970 64-bit/32-bit POWER 1 to 2 2.0 GHz 1.0 GHz Runs in Apple's G5, and IBM's iSeries and pSeries servers
POWER 970 FX 64-bit/32-bit POWER 1 to 2 2.0 GHz + 1.1 GHz Unreleased as of press time, but turning heads based on design and performance

This article was originally published on Feb 17, 2004
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