New Xeon 7500 Treads On Itanium’s Toes

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Intel says its Xeon 7500 gives its biggest performance jump yet. Others wonder if it spells the end for Itanium, and trouble for IBM’s Power processor

Intel has launched new high-performance Xeon processors, which are already in use in servers from IBM and Dell, claiming they represent the biggest performance jump yet from the chip-maker, and can pay for themselves quickly on savings to users’ electricity bills.

The Xeon 7500, a Nehalem EX processor, takes the Intel x86 processor so far up the performance scale it is now a serious contender in high-performance computing, as well as a basis for industrial-strength enterprise IT systems, Intel said at launch events in San Francisco and London yesterday, which were also attended by server makers and others using the chip.

Biggest leap in Xeon performance ever

The new quad-core, six-core and eight-core Xeon 7500 chips represent “the most significant leap in performance, scalability and reliability ever seen from Intel,” said Kirk Skaugen, vice president of the Intel architecture group and general manager of its data centre group. Rob Enderle, principal of The Enderle Group, agreed, telling eWEEK: “This is huge. This is Intel taking its x86 architecture up into the mainframe space.”

As well as raw performance, and low power requirements, Intel also stressed reliability features built into the chip, including error correction.

At the UK launch Intel faced questions about the status of its RISC-based Itanium range of processors, and server makers IBM and Dell were also asked about the new processor’s impact on their use of rival processors – IBM’s own Power chips, and AMD silicon in Dell’s case.

Although Xeons are now moving into high-performance territory for which Intel’s Itanium was designed, the Itanium RISC processor is still a “great business” for us, Shannon Poulin, enterprise marketing director in Intel’s data centre group told the London audience. The two processor families share technology ingredients, and Itanium is the only Intel platform to support older operating systems like HP UX Nonstop and OpenVMS, he pointed out. He mentioned the final arrival of the much-delayed Tuckwila generation of Itanium, and promised that reliability features from Xeon would be built into Itanium.

At the US launch, Skaugen hedged similarly – but mentioned “migration” from Itanium: “These are two distinctly different architectures,” he said. “There is room for them at this time. That said, 90 percent of our Itanium business is mainframe and HP/UX-based. Intel expects to migrate a lot of those machines to Xeon over time, but for now, it [Itanium] is still a very good business for us.”

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