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High end CPUs are not cheap chips

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Roadmap In the last instalment of our Intel roadmap roundup, we'll look at the IA-32 server market. It's a cash cow both for Intel and its PC customers. If this high end market ever dries or ever becomes seriously threatened by rivals the chip giant will be in deep trouble. Intel segments its server processors in six price categories. At the bottom end of the market, for machines less than $6,000, it supplies Pentium III processors without the Xeon tag. Some of the Coppermine processors which launch next Mondayare aimed at this market, the internal roadmap we have obtained shows. 667MHz and 733MHz processors with 256K of cache are aimed at this market for single processor rather symmetric multiprocessing (SMP) systems. The map shows Intel introducing a 800MHz Pentium III with 256K cache in the second half of next year. However, we have good reason to believe that introduction will come much earlier than that. Beyond the entry level, Intel positions its Pentium III (slot 2) Xeon systems as chips for two to four way systems and four to eightway SMP systems. Towards the end of August it introduced Xeons with large caches and this set to increase during the course of this year and next. Midrange systems, with price tags from $6,000 to $25,000 dollars, are shown on the map as as rising to 700MHz Xeons with 1Mb of on-die cache in the second half of next year. However, Intel is on record as saying that we can expect to see faster Xeons with larger caches than this during the year 2000. All of these high end Xeon processors only use the 100MHz system bus rather than the 133MHz bus, a fact which baffled us a little when we wrote our workstation roadmap. But one of our readers has supplied us with what we believe is the answer to this bus conundrum. He writes that signalling issues are currently preventing a 133MHz bus from working on four way and eight way SMP systems. Little known chipset vendor Reliance, he adds, will only use a 133MHz front side bus for two way systems and a 100MHz front side bus for four way. Intel's Profusion chipset also suffers from the same problems, and so those Xeon processors, too, will only run at 100MHz. It is a strange but true fact that the most expensive of Intel's entire range of microprocessors will not have this capability, while its up-and-coming Celeron III, using a core P3 and costing peanuts in comparison will run at 133MHz bus speed. The roadmap for the high end of the server market covers four to eight way and systems with pricing starting at $25,000 and rising above $50,000 depending on the configuration. When Intel is asked for the reasoning behind the high prices of the Xeon, it usually comes up with the answer that there is "manageability" built into the processors. No one is entirely clear as to why that word attracts such a high price tag. The real reason, of course, as we have suggested above, is that this is very good profit margin business for Intel. It is true that the processors use relatively expensive SDRAM for their caches, but it isn't that expensive. The pricing is also related to future introductions of both IA-32 and IA-64 processors. With a price tag of over $50,000 for an eight way system, Intel is ensuring that it can charge through the nose for the Itanium-Merced, when that is released. Expect to see, as we have reported here earlier, Xeons with even larger caches than 2Mb through the course of 1999. Intel has just placed its own roadmap for server chips in a public place on its web site, and the tale this has to tell is of considerable interest. It shows Intel will continue selling .25 micron Xeons right through the first half of next year. How you tell whether you will have a .18 micron Coppermine Xeon server or a .25 micron Xeon will be tricky. The reason for the company continuing to fabricate and sell .25 micron chips is that it takes time to switch fabs over to the newer .18 micron process. But now it has perfected the technology, we can expect to see more and .18 micron manufacturing coming on stream. As they do so, the price of quite a few of these Xeons will drop considerably, while Intel will push the chips with larger caches into the high end of the market. ® See also Intel's workstation roadmap Intel's desktop roadmap

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