Intel has admitted that the recently-released, low-power Xeon is only a stopgap until a chip housing its next generation micro-architecture arrives sometime in the next three months.
The Santa Clara company released its first dual-core, low-power Xeon chip, code-named Sossaman amid a fanfare about how it uses less power than its predecessor, codenamed Irwindale. It chews 31W, compared to the older chip's 55W, and is based on the 65nm Yonah core. The new product, officially named Xeon LV and available in 2GHz and 1.66GHz versions, is aimed at data centres with limited space, cooling and power resources, and for HPC applications. Essentially, Intel expects the chip to find its way into blade servers within financial institutions.
Underlining its power-saving capabilities, European product manager Werner Schueler said that, in benchtests, a server housing the Paxville dual-core chip -- Intel's 64-bit, top-performing Xeon -- consumed 385W at the mains socket while a Sossaman-based server consumed 120W, and the new Xeon was 20 per cent faster. Both were running the Cinebench 3D benchmark.
However, Intel will be releasing a chip codenamed Woodcrest in the next three months. Not only does Woodcrest support 64-bit computing, it also ships with Intel VT (Virtualisation Technology) enabled; the virtualisation technology is engraved in the Sossaman silicon but it's not enabled. It is slated to consume 40W.
Schueler tacitly agreed that many will ask why Intel bothered to release Sossaman, given that its much-improved successor is close behind. Several of Intel's OEMs, such as HP and Dell clearly agree, and aren't bothering to released products housing it, although blade market leader IBM, SuperMicro and Bull will do so.
Justifying the release, Schueler said that end users want more performance/watt now, especially in the high-performance computing market. He said: "This is not just a product for market positioning - customers are demanding it. They don't want to wait for Woodcrest -- financial services customers want it."
He argued that VT is being deployed for server consolidation but that usage on the dual-core platform will kick in mostly in the second half of 2006. Most applications are 32-bit today, said Schueler, while acknowledging that developers wanted to work on 64-bit software for the future.
"There is some forward promising here," said Schueler, "but when we shift the micro-architecture to Woodcrest, we move the game on. We are well equipped for the future now, and we have good leadership across the board. On the other hand, AMD are at their architectural limit and I'm not sure what their plans are for their next micro-architecture. "
In the second half of 2006, Intel also plans to refresh the other two tiers of its three-layer range of Xeons. The mainstream and the high performance ranges will both get Woodcrest chips that will presumably operate in full power mode, as both are planned to consume 80W. Further out, in 2007, the top end Xeon, now called Clovertown, will consume 110W -- 25W less than Paxville -- the mid-range version will be an 80W variant, while Woodcrest continues at the low-power end of the server market.