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Intel feels more 'complete' with release of 64-bit Xeon

Opteron-capable, don't you know

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Intel today officially ended its x86-64-bit denial, rolling out the first Opteron-capable Xeon processor for workstations.

As has been the case since it first confirmed "Nocona," Intel played down the 64-bitness of the processor. The ability to address more memory is just one feature along with a new chipset, 800MHz front side bus, PCI Express, SSE3 and DDR 2 memory, said Abhi Talwalkar, VP of Intel's enterprise group, during a conference call with press and analysts. The message was "this is a total package kind of thing not a following AMD affair". (Our words, of course.)

"Intel has been working diligently with the industry to bring together a collection of new technology that is represented by this [release]," Talwalkhar said.

The new Xeon arrives at speeds ranging from 2.8GHz up to 3.6GHz and with prices stretching from $209 to $851, respectively, in 1,000-unit quantities. Intel's new "Tumwater" or E7525 chipset for the processor is priced at $100 in 1,000-unit quantities. In the next 60 days, Intel will release a x86-64-bit Xeon for dual processor servers and then later this year or early next year, it will release a new Xeon for multiprocessor servers. At that point, Intel's entire server processor line will be 64-bit ready.

As expected, Talwalkar spent quite a bit of time emphasizing the different markets that the new Xeon chips and existing Itanium chips address. The Xeon products are meant for lower-end workloads and should give current 32-bit Xeon customers a painless transition path to using more memory. By contrast, Itanium is meant to handle high-end software such as databases. Got it? Good.

Intel put three customers on the horn along with Talwalkar. All of them expressed a fondness for Intel gear and explained how clear this difference between Xeon and Itanium really is. Their words were soothing and completely removed any doubts we once had about possible product overlap or how 64-bit Xeons might slow already laggard Itanium sales.

Intel and its customers, however, were less forthcoming on how the Xeon would compete against AMD's Opteron processor, which enjoys over a year's lead time on the market. When asked directly about the Opteron conundrum, Talwalkar said, "I think this collection of technology when integrated together . . . " Sorry, we lost interest there at the end. Talkwalkar basically ignored the question and stressed that Intel is a trusted name in the enterprise and has rolled out a "collection" of technology as opposed to just some cool new chip.

One unidentified Intel customer on the conference call was heard to exclaim, "We love Intel!" This seemed to sum up the objectivity of the three customers on the Opteron front well

Intel decided to play down the 64-bit part of the new Xeon for obvious reasons. The release of Opteron many moons ago placed Intel in the rare position of following its main rival. True enough, neither a software "ecosystem" or even a 64-bit version of Windows for either Xeon or Opteron is ready yet, which makes Intel's delay to the technology understandable. But it did allow AMD to steal the spotlight for some time and more importantly allowed AMD to become an acceptable word in the data center. If you have doubts, see HP - Intel's largest customer and biggest Itanium backer - who is selling loads of Opteron gear.

It's this loss of ground to AMD on the server front that will be of far greater impact to Intel than any Itanium sales the 64-bit Xeon happens to chip away. Exactly how much momentum AMD can hold onto now is the big question. But with HP, Sun Microsystems and IBM on its side, AMD has more than a fighting chance. ®

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