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Intel will open server chips to partners next week

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Exclusive Everyone in the server world has been wondering if Intel planned a response to AMD's opening of its Opteron socket specifications. Well, The Register can reveal that Intel does indeed have a counterattack in store, and it will arrive in part at next week's Intel Developer Forum.

Multiple sources have confirmed that Intel, for the first time, will open up its chip architecture to partners. One element of the companies agenda centers around releasing extensions for PCI Express and other buses that will allow other companies to develop co-processors for Xeon-based motherboards. In addition, Intel has been trying to woo partners to build co-processors for its upcoming Common System Interface (CSI).

"Intel has been quite openly talking to many people," said one source.

Last month, Intel held a CSI partner day of sorts in Portland. Close to 30 companies attended the event at which Intel laid out vague plans for CSI. The technology, due out in 2008, is a response to AMD's Hypertransport technology that allows processors and other components to communicate. When CSI arrives, Intel is also expected to move to processor designs with integrated memory controllers as AMD has done for years.

So far, AMD has allowed various companies to make accelerators, networking products and FPGAs that tap into Hypertransport. This has created a young but fertile market for add-on gear that can add some processing muscle to Opteron-based servers. On the FPGA front, for example, companies like Cray plan to create FPGA/Opteron combo systems that crank through high performance computing code.

Up until now, Intel has kept its system designs close to the vest with only a couple of chipset makers getting any real access. Most other components had to be added through things such as PCI Express.

Now, however, Intel plans to unveil a much more open program. It will make an announcement at IDF to this effect. The company declined to answer our questions around any such announcement, so exact details remain thin.

That said, a number of companies have confirmed that Intel approached them in recent months to begin creating co-processors and accelerators for its systems.

Industry chatter has Intel releasing CSI with the Tukwila version of Itanium in 2008. Most partners, however, would prefer to see CSI arrive first with Xeon. Although, it's looking like CSI won't get to Xeon until 2009, after Intel cancelled earlier versions of chips that did in fact have the technology.

One source portrayed Intel's Xeon CSI plans as "wholly unimpressive." An understandable stance given that Xeon represents the volume market for these partners.

We can't wait to see just how far Intel plans to go with its "openness" policy. ®

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