Intel is just two weeks away from upgrading the high end of its Xeon MP processor line. The company plans to launch its the new Xeon MP platform, code-named Trueland, on 29 March in San Francisco

The Trueland platform will comprise three main components. It will include a high-end Xeon MP processor, code-named Potomac, which is expected to ship with clock speeds as high as 3.33 GHz and with an 8MBe L3 cache. Trueland also includes an entry-level Xeon MP processor code-named Cranford and a new chipset called the E8500.

"This is Intel moving ahead on their strategy of enhancing the Xeon platform," said Kevin Krewell, editor-in-chief of Microprocessor Report. "They've got some tough competition from AMD's Opteron."

The new Xeons will be the latest Intel x86 processors to support both 32-bit and 64-bit processing, an approach pioneered by AMD but which Intel has also embraced over the last year.

"Architecturally, AMD still has the advantage, but Intel has thrown everything they can at it to keep competitive," Krewell said.

With Trueland, Intel has added a much larger memory cache to Xeon, and it has re-designed the chipset architecture so that the processors can more quickly communicate with other components on the chipset. The E8500 will have a 667MHz bus speed, compared with 400MHz for Intel's previous Xeon chipset, said Intel spokeswoman Erica Fields.

To further improve the speed with which components on its chipsets can communicate, Intel is working on a next-generation interconnect architecture, called CSI, that will compete with AMD's HypterTransport interconnect, according to Krewell. But CSI, which is being designed for both Itanium and x86 processors, is not expected until 2007, according to Krewell. Intel's Fields declined to comment on CSI.

At present, neither Xeon nor Opteron can claim to be the uncontested performance leader, said Gordon Haff an analyst with Illuminata. "Intel does better for some types of applications. Opteron does better for others," he said. "At this particular moment, Opteron probably does better at more workloads than Intel does, but certainly the larger cache (in Intel's product) clearly does favor some types of applications."

Xeon server vendors IBM, Hewlett-Packard and Dell are expected to begin shipping systems based on Trueland around the time of the Trueland launch. "We will be offering all of the new processors," said Bruce Anderson, a Dell spokesman. "When Intel announces, (the new processors) we will be a supporter."

IBM has already said it will support the Cranford processor as part of its IBM eServer xSeries 366 server, which will begin shipping within the next few months. Pricing for the x366 will start at US$6,999, IBM said.

Intel's Fields declined to comment on the March 29 announcement.