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Intel gives the go ahead to buy its server chips again

'This platform has legs'

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While it plans to hit the streets hard in the near-term, Intel is also promising staying power to customers. It will deliver socket-compatible gear around the "Bensley" server platform, which Woodcrest slots into, through 2009.

Intel, of course, plans to release fancier chips outside of Bensley before 2009. The longevity promise is meant to answer charges made by AMD that Intel still has a number of major architecture revisions - integrated memory controller and Hypertransport copy - to go through and does not have a "stable" design.

"This platform has legs," Kilroy promised.

In third quarter, Intel plans to release a low power - 40W - version of Woodcrest and will then release four-core chips in the first quarter of next year.

In addition, Intel plans to release a new MP processor in the third quarter.

Kilroy sidestepped direct questions about how well the "Tulsa" MP chip will fair against Opteron. He downplayed the MP space, saying it only makes up 10 per cent of the market. Now, that's confidence.

Intel has without question come out swinging against AMD and is "back" as its executives like to say.

The funny bit, however, about today's launch is how close Intel and AMD's pitches are to each other.

AMD reckons that it can keep Opteron momentum going even if it doesn't win a single new customer in the coming months. It has burrowed into many Fortune 500 data centers, and these folks will keep buying more and more servers. Large companies don't change suppliers just because of a momentary difference in performance.

Similarly, Intel today noted its long-standing relationships with large companies.

"Enterprise don't just flip a switch," Kilroy said. "There are all these relationships that have been in place for years."

Even though Intel has "struggled with competitive offerings. We have stayed engaged with our customers."

Over the next couple of months, we'll find out exactly how good Woodcrest is from a pure performance standpoint. Look to see which processors are in the major high performance computing wins. The HPC crowd will happily pay a premium for Intel's cache-heavy chips if they trounce Opteron.

In the longer-term, we'll have to watch how AMD's market share shakes out. If AMD ends up reaching 30 per cent share as it predicts, then Intel did just enough to thwart a total disaster. If AMD can't reach 30 per cent share, then Intel has to consider Woodcrest a major victory.

If nothing else, it's nice to see Intel saying that customers can buy its chips with pride again. Intel has talked about Woodcrest for months and months and months, employing the old "we're working on something really great, please don't make a major server purchase yet" strategy. It always makes us uncomfortable to see the market leader be put in the awkward position of implicitly telling customers not to buy its current gear. Thanks goodness that's over. ®

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