Intel will introduce a naming system for its server processors later this year with the first dual-core Itanium 2 processor.
A new processor for blade servers based on its dual-core Yonah mobile processor design is also due to be announced soon. The new processor, codenamed Sossaman, will be the first processor based on the low-power Pentium M architecture to be specifically targeted for products other than notebook PCs.
Intel is expected to make a form of the architecture the backbone of its future desktop and server processors, although it has not publicly confirmed such plans.
The chip-maker has already introduced model numbers for its desktop and notebook processors. The company historically labelled its processors by their clock speed, but it was forced to introduce a new naming scheme in March 2004 after it became prohibitively difficult to increase the clock speed of its flagship Pentium 4 processor amid power consumption concerns. There is a direct relationship between clock speed and power consumption, and Intel's engineers came to the conclusion last year that it would be a waste of engineering resources to make its Pentium 4 processors run reliably at clock speeds faster than 3.8GHz.
Instead, Intel introduced a processor numbering system intended to communicate performance characteristics beyond just clock speed, such as cache memory and additional features such as hyperthreading technology. Its main rival AMD has had its own model number system in place for several years.
Server processors will now be sorted into one of four different categories, said Rick Brown, director of marketing for Intel's server platform group. Itanium 2 processors and chipsets will fall into the 9000 series, Xeon MP processors and chipsets for servers with four or more chips will fall into the 7000 series, and Xeon DP processors and chipsets for two-way servers will fall into the 5000 series. Intel will also introduce 3000 series server processors based on its Pentium D chip for one-way servers.
For example, Intel will introduce a dual-core Xeon processor called Dempsey in the first quarter of 2006. The first chip in that series might be labelled the Xeon 5010 processor, while a more powerful version might be called the Xeon 5020, Brown said. Chipsets associated with those Xeon processors will have a letter at the end of the four-digit label, such as the hypothetical 5000x chipset, he said.
"We're trying to more accurately represent the performance," Brown said. The first server processor to receive a model number, the dual-core Montecito Itanium 2 processor, is expected to launch in the fourth quarter.
Server customers are inherently more savvy than their consumer counterparts and have long been aware that there is more to the performance equation than clock speed, said Gordon Haff, senior analyst with Illuminata. "But when the nomenclature gets totally out of step with the technology, you need to make a change every now and then," he said.
Future chip designs in this market will consist of multi-core chips that will probably coalesce around a tight range of clock speeds, Haff said. This means that the primary differences between future processors will be the number of cores, the types of cores, and the connections between cores, and not their clock speeds. With that transition well under way, Intel needed a new naming scheme to communicate performance, he said.