Intel's first dual-core Xeon server processor is around 50 per cent more powerful than its single-core predecessor, but it will cost around 40 per cent more than that chip.

At an event Monday in San Francisco, Intel unveiled its first dual-core Xeon chips for two-processor and four-processor servers, previously known by the Paxville code name. The version for two-chip servers is available immediately at 2.8GHz, said Kirk Skaugen, general manager of Intel's server platforms group. The Dual-Core Xeon 2.8GHz for two-chip servers costs $1,043 in quantities of 1,000 units, as compared to the $690 Intel is charging for its 3.8GHz single-core Xeon processors.

Dual-Core Xeon 7000

Pricing details will be released about the Dual-Core Xeon 7000 processor - a version for multichip servers - within the next 60 days. This chip will run at up to 3GHz and use advanced reliability features such as Intel's Pellston technology, which repairs data errors in cache memory.

The Dual-Core Xeon 2.8GHz uses 2M bytes of Level 2 cache memory per core. From an architectural standpoint, it is very similar to the dual-core Pentium D processor unveiled earlier this year for desktop PCs. However, the Dual-Core Xeon comes with a power-management feature called demand-based switching, which turns off portions of the chip when not in use, Skaugen said. It also comes with Intel's hyperthreading technology, allowing each core to process two independent software threads at the same time.

Intel had originally planned to introduce its first dual-core Xeon server processor in the first quarter of next year. However, the company has been faced this year with increased competition from Advanced Micro Devices Inc's (AMD's) Opteron processor, which has been available in a dual-core version since May. Intel announced plans in August to accelerate the launch of Paxville and build two versions, one for two-way servers and one for four-way servers.

First but not last

Even though it is Intel's first dual-core processor for two-chip servers - the largest segment of the server market - the company does not expect the Dual-Core Xeon to ship in heavy volumes, said Boyd Davis, general manager of server platforms group marketing at Intel. The Dempsey processor will carry the dual-core load for Intel starting in the first quarter of next year when it makes its debut as part of the Bensley platform, the umbrella code name for a system with the Dempsey processor and the Blackford chipset.

Bensley will introduce several new technologies to Intel's server customers. It will have hardware support for virtualisation technologies delivered by companies like VMware and XenSource, and will speed up the transfer of data from the network into the processor with Intel's I/O Acceleration Technology. The processor and chipset will also make use of a faster 1,066MHz dual-independent bus that has individual connections to the processor core, rather than forcing the two cores to share a single connection to the memory.

Bensley will account for the vast majority of its dual-core server processor shipments next year, Skaugen said. It will also cost the same amount as Intel's current single-core Xeon chips, unlike the $353 premium Intel is charging for the Dual-Core Xeon 2.8GHz.

Needs must

"If you absolutely, positively need a dual-core Xeon today, they'll sell it to you. But it won't be cheap," said Kevin Krewell, editor in chief of The Microprocessor Report. Most server customers will wait for Bensley-based products, but delivering a product ahead of schedule is always a good move for a chip vendor, he said.

Intel needed a dual-core response to the momentum generated by AMD's dual-core Opteron, Krewell said: "It's clearly recognition that they are under pressure and that the dual-core Opteron had them under the gun," he said.

Dell, HP, and IBM have all announced support for the new Dual-Core Xeon, and customers interested in the product can order systems from all three vendors as of Monday.