Intel's upcoming Xeon server chips incorporate significant advancements that could form the basis for future chips that could handle high-performance computing tasks, analysts said.
The new Xeons are based on Intel's latest Nehalem microarchitecture, which improves system speed by cutting bottlenecks that plagued Intel's earlier chips.
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The advancements are a step by Intel to build server chips that are able to run applications faster. Chipmakers are consistently etching more complex features onto the surface of processors to handle a larger number of applications, which could reduce the need for extra components in servers.
Intel is due to launch the Xeon chips on March 30, and initial offerings will be targeted at workstations and servers. Apple and Lenovo have already announced workstations with dual- and quad-core Xeon chips, with server announcements from other vendors expected during the launch. Later this year Intel could release Nehalem-based chips with six cores and eight cores, according to the company's road map.
"Nehalem is a significant architecture that overcomes certain limitations Intel faced in the past," said Jim McGregor, chief technology strategist at In-Stat. "This is a much bigger jump than they have had in quite a big time."
Perhaps the most significant change is that the Xeon chips integrate a memory controller on the CPU, which gives the chip a faster path to communicate with the memory, said Dan Olds, principal analyst with Gabriel Consulting Group. It removes the memory latency that affected earlier Intel processors, which should translate to better server performance.
Data-intensive applications like video processing frequently require a processor to fetch information from memory, and Intel's earlier chips had to go through a bus called the front-side bus (FSB). After facing years of criticism, Intel removed the FSB and integrated the memory controller into the CPU with Nehalem chips.
Intel's rival Advanced Micro Devices has been integrating memory controllers on CPUs for many years, which gave it a long-standing performance advantage, said Roger Kay, founder and president of Endpoint Technologies Associates. Intel relied heavily on cache for improved performance, but the integration of the memory controller brings both chipmakers to par in terms of technology advancements.