Intel Tips Eight-Way Server Plans, More Katmai Details

SAN FRANCISCO — Elbowing its way into the high-margin world of computer servers, Intel Corp. this week said it is designing multiple chip sets for eight-way multiprocessing systems, the first of which will appear before June. The CPU giant has also developed undisclosed features and instructions in its upcoming Katmai-generation processors that it hopes will give its Pentium II microprocessors a leg up in some large database processing jobs.

The Katmai New Instructions are expected to first appear in Intel's server chips in March, when the company rolls out its Tanner CPUs. Intel has documented some of the floating-point enhancements in those new instructions that will benefit multimedia functions such as graphics and voice recognition. However, Intel revealed that Katmai New Instructions will also include “a couple of things still under non-disclosure that will improve performance of some business applications . . . with instructions and enhancements optimized for database environments,” said John Miner, vice president and general manager of Intel's Enterprise Server Group.

Miner would not elaborate on the nature of those enhancements. Separately, Miner said Intel expects to ship before June its long-awaited Profusion chip set for building eight-way multiprocessing systems based on its Pentium II Xeon microprocessors. The chip-set design — the crown jewel of Corollary Inc. (Irvine, Calif.), which Intel acquired in October 1997 — is now in a final validation phase. It will mark Intel's first attempt to expand its so-called Standard High-Volume Server platform to the scale of an eight-way system.

Miner said Intel already has multiple eight-way chip sets in design for its IA-32 and upcoming IA-64 processor lines. The company has been reported to be working on chip sets in the symmetric-multiprocessing (SMP) area since it acquired from NCR Corp. a server-design group in South Carolina responsible for a so-called Octascale architecture. However, this week marked the first time Intel publicly acknowledged that its plans for SMP span multiple chip sets and processor generations.

Although several computer makers build their own eight-way and larger X86-based servers with in-house ASICs, Intel expects its Profusion chip set will be the only available merchant-market offering when it debuts later this year. The plan is to support multiple price points. “We will offer eight-way systems optimized for four-way processing and headroom for expansion, and we will offer systems optimized for eight processors,” said Miner. “We will also support eight-way systems for both IA-32 and IA-64 processors.” Miner said the designs include the Profusion chips and an undisclosed number of other chip sets not based on Profusion or Octascale. The new details came to light as Intel formally unveiled the latest member of its server CPU line, the 450-MHz Pentium II Xeon. In lots of 1,000, prices will range from $824 for versions with 512 kbytes L2 cache to $3,692 for a version with 2 Mbytes of cache.

Those price tags are in stark contrast to the $70 and up of new Celeron versions of the Pentium II that Intel announced on Monday (Jan. 4). Indeed, Intel's plans for segmenting its Pentium II line for various retail to large-server markets is a fundamental part of its strategy to maintain average selling prices on its microprocessors despite steep price cuts in desktop markets. “This server segment is growing faster than any other part of the computer industry, mainly fueled by the Internet,” said Miner. With processors that cost several thousand dollars and multiple CPUs in a system, “it's a very good business proposition for Intel.”


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