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Intel confirms Nehalem Xeons imminent

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Reeling from revenue declines and even steeper drops in profits in the fourth quarter, Intel confirmed today that it will ship its "Nehalem" Xeon EP processors for two-socket servers before the end of this quarter.

During a briefing with reporters this morning in San Francisco, the chip maker mentioned its Nehalem plans in passing, as it discussed the $7bn it will spend outfitting factories for its upcoming 32nm "Westmere" processors.

The Nehalem EP chips will plunk into two-socket servers based on the "Tylersburg" chipset and will carry the Xeon 5000 series brand. Chips for two-socket servers represent the bulk of Intel's sales for Xeon products, so it is no surprise that Intel would start the Nehalem ramp here. In referring to the Nehalem EP (EP being short for Efficient Platform, and an alternative to the Xeon DP, or Dual Processor, lingo the company has used for years), Stephen Smith, vice president and director of operations at Intel's digital enterprise Group said: "We are currently in production, and we expect to have a system introduction later this quarter. So it is imminent."

That puts that matter to rest.

As we reported back in November, motherboard makers have been ready to ship Nehalem boards since the fall. They originally expected Intel to get Nehalem EPs out the door on February 9. But by November, the latest iffy scheduling pegged the Nehalem EP launch at the end of March.

Since last fall, there has been plenty of talk about the Nehalems being pushed out, as server makers deal with inventories of existing "Harpertown" Xeon DPs and absorb the "Dunnington" Xeon MPs that launched last September. Then, last week, Intel's decision to delay its quad-core "Tukwila" Itanium processors got tongue wagging that company was adjusting its roadmap in response to the struggling economy. Intel is adding support for a future chip socket and DDR3 main memory to Tukwila to justify pushing its launch out by six months to mid-2009, but that may not tell the whole story.

Smith added that the high-end Nehalem EX chip, which will plunk into machines with four or more sockets, was in development alongside its "Boxboro" chipset. (EX is short for Expandable, and it replaces the Xeon MP or Multiprocessor branding Intel has used in the past for its high-end server chips). Intel's techies showed off the Nehalem EX design at the International Solid-State Circuit Conference, which is an eight-core behemoth that will deliver 16 threads for execution. The Nehalem EX is based on current 45 nanometer technologies. It has 2.3 billion transistors and a 24 MB partitioned L3 cache. No word yet on clock speeds. (Lots more technical details on the Nehalem EX chip here).

The techies at ISSCC couldn't talk about ship dates for Nehalem EX, but at the media event in San Francisco, Smith reassured everyone that the Nehalem EX chips would be in production and shipping to Intel's OEM customers in 2009. The roadmap puts it pretty close to the end of 2009, and it is not clear if server makers will be able to get Nehalem EX boxes out the door before 2010 comes around. Clearly, Intel would like this, especially if the economy recovers in the second half of 2009 a bit. And if Intel and its OEMs want to chase RISC/Unix and mainframe customers if the economy worsens, Nehalem EX machines will be part of the arsenal they will want to use to win deals. Either way, Intel needs to get the Nehalem EX chips out the door on time to help server makers scare up some deals. ®

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