Intel Delivers Quasi Quad Core Xeon 5300 Server Chips
Published: November 15, 2006
by Timothy Prickett Morgan
If you are ever going to take on the dominant volume manufacturer in any sector of the IT business, you have to do two things: Get your product roadmaps out way ahead of that dominant company, and then figure out how to ramp your business as fast as you can. Because when that dominant company slaps back--even if its books have been wounded by you--it is going to slap back very, very hard. Intel has launched 30 processors in 100 days, and that is something of a feat.
In the volume X64 server space in particular, there is a rough donnybrook battle going on between Intel and Advanced Micro Devices. After taking a beating from AMD in 2005, Intel has revamped its server chips with the Core microarchitecture, matching AMD with its dual-core Opterons, and has put dual-core Itanium 9000s in the field that can compete with the best RISC architectures available in enterprise-class servers. And today, Intel will put the technically impressive "Clovertown" quad-core module into two-socket X64 servers.
The Clovertown Xeon 5300s represent a more than quadrupling of performance compared to the single-core "Irwindale" Xeon DP chips Intel was trying to sell against dual-core Opterons as the year began. The "Paxville" kickers to the Irwindales put two of those chips in a single package, but were not popular because they generated a lot of heat and they were announced in the fourth quarter of 2005 when the "Dempsey" dual-core Xeon 5000s were imminent and the much-better dual-core Woodcrest chips were on the horizon. With the Clovertown launch today, each core within the quad-core Clovertown package has more oomph than a single Irwindale chip had at the beginning of the year.
The Clovertown Xeon 5300 processors cram two "Woodcrest" dual-core Xeon 5100s into a single chip package; the chips plug right into the same processor sockets and support the same chipsets, obviously. And, according to Kirk Skaugen, general manager of Intel's Server Platforms Group, Intel was able to pick up the pace a little and deliver Clovertown chips with both a 1066 MHz and 1333 MHz front side bus options. Originally, Intel had planned to get the Clovertowns out with the slower bus, and then revamp them later with the faster bus. But, when you have four cores in a package, some workloads need that extra bandwidth out of the processor to get balanced performance, so it is a good thing that Intel can deliver the faster bus speeds today. Skaugen says that Intel has been quietly shipping Clovertown parts with 1066 MHz bus for a number of weeks, and that the parts with the 1333 MHz bus speed will be available within a few more weeks from today.
Intel is putting four Clovertowns into the field starting today. The top-end part is aimed at customers who need the most performance and are not constrained by thermal issues. This is the Xeon X5355, and it has a 2.66 GHz clock speed, 8 MB of on-chip cache (2 MB per core), the 1333 MHz front side bus, and a 120 watt thermal design point (TDP). It costs $1,172 in 1,000-unit quantities. The Xeon E5345 has the same bus and cache, but runs at a slower 2.33 GHz and has an 80 watt TDP. It costs $851, the same as the dual-core 3 GHz Xeon 5160 Woodcrest part with the same 80 watt TDP, and it provides about 50 percent more aggregate performance.
The E5320 runs at 1.86 GHz, has the slower 1066 MHz bus, and has an 80 watt TDP; it costs $690 in the 1K unit trays. Again, that is the same price as the dual-core Xeon 5150 Woodcrest parts, which run at 2.66 GHz and sport the same 1333 MHz bus, but the 5150 chip runs at 65 watts, not 80 watts. The slowest Clovertown is the E5310, which runs at 1.6 GHz, uses the 1066 MHz bus, and has the same 80 watt TDP; it costs $455 per 1,000. This is the same price as the Woodcrest Xeon 5140, which runs at 2.33 GHz with a 65 watt TDP.
Skaugen says that unlike AMD, which charged a price premium when it moved to dual-core chips, Intel is pricing these products to move--charging the same for quad-core as it does for dual-core. "The Xeon 5300s are priced to move into high volume, quickly," says Skaugen. "We are going to ship 1 million of these things in the next three quarters before AMD even ships one quad-core."
For some workloads--particularly single-threaded, monolithic applications that are popular on Linux and Windows systems inside companies--the faster clocks on the Woodcrest chips might be better suited to supporting the applications than the Clovertowns. But at these prices and thermals, now might be a very good time to start parallelizing the code, too. Multicore is the way all processors are heading, and applications have to be rewritten to take advantage of this because clock-speed cranks are not going to happen.
In addition to the Clovertown, Intel has also announced the "Kentsfield" Core 2 Extreme QX6700, which is aimed at power desktop users who don't mind a chip that runs at 130 watts and that costs $999. The QX6700 runs at 2.66 GHz and has a 1066 MHz front side bus; it is supported by Intel's 975X Express chipset. The QX6700 provides up to 80 percent more oomph than the dual-core Core 2 X6800 Extreme Edition chip.
In the first quarter of 2007, Skaugen says that Intel will put out two more quad-core Xeons. The Xeon 3200 will be a variant of Kentsfield for single-socket servers with the 1066 MHz front side bus. The rumor mill is suggesting that the Xeon X3210 will run at 2.13 GHz, while the Xeon X3220 will run at 2.4 GHz. And the Xeon 5300 LV is a low-voltage variant of the Xeon 5310 DP processor that has a TDP of 50 watts.
Intel is really keen on the quasi-quad approach to making chips, as is IBM, which does the same thing for its Power5+ quad core modules. "There is a challenge of making monolithic dies versus a dual-die packages," explains Skaugen. "With dual-die packages, you can do selective die paring, matching up two smaller chips that run at the same voltage and clock speeds." Skaugen says that compared to trying to make monolithic dual-core or quad-core chips, the dual-die package allows Intel to get 20 percent more dies per wafer to market.