Intel’s Nehalem EX Server Chip Spells Doom For RISC?


… and it’s not great news for Itanium either, as Intel announces a monster Nehalem multiprocessor chip


Intel has announced the high-end multiprocessor member of its Nehalem chip family, the Nehalem EX, and plans to use it to displace systems based on RISC processors such as Sun’s SPARC by early 2010. The eight-core chip will also impact Intel’s struggling Itanium family, whose next release, Tukwilla is more than two years late.

The Nehalem EX chips, delivered as Xeon multi-processor (MP) devices, will address servers at the higher end of the market, with four or more sockets, while the recently launched Xeon 5500 Nehalem processors are designed for dual-socket systems often used in blade servers. Intel officials said the MP devices would put pressure on RISC vendors like IBM and Sun and denied they might threaten Intel’s Itanium, despite giving Xeon MP its head.

“Customers are still looking to Intel [to help them] move off RISC,” Boyd Davis, general manager of Intel’s server platforms marketing group, said in a conference call. “RISC processors have been in decline for a decade , while the market for Xeon procesors has grown at a healthy rate”.

He denied the chips would cannibalise Itanium, but added that Intel is “going to drive Xeon as high and far as it can go.” The Itanium family does have some common features with RISC processors, although it is in systems available from multiple vendors, and it actually has synergies with Xeon, he said. Itanium’s association with Unix operating systems such as HP-UX might give it distinctive features, but in the long term general purpose operating systems such as Linux and Windows can only become more dominant, he added. “We will continue to grow against proprietary RISC systems using a combination of both Itanium and Xeon.

MP servers healthy this year

The market for multi-processor servers is a small part of the overall server market, but will continue to be healthy this year, despite the recession, said Davis. Already there are 15 eight-socket designs coming from eight manufacturers based on Nehalem EX, he said.

The new chip will offer up to eight cores per processor, up to 16 threads per chip through hyper-threading, and 24MB of shared cache. It will replace the six-core “Dunnington” Xeon 7400 series, launched last year, which currently has around nine percent market share, said Davis.

Like Xeon 5500, the new chip will have an integrated memory controller, QuickPath Interconnect for chip-to-chip communication for higher bandwidth, and Turbo Boost, which enables IT administrators to dynamically increase or lower the clock speed of individual cores depending on utilisation and demand.

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