SAN MATEO, Calif. Intel Corp. will announce a new chip set for PC servers at its Intel Developer Forum later this month (Feb. 25-28) as part of an effort to revive a languishing business in the sector, EE Times has learned. Plumas and another upcoming chip set will challenge market leader ServerWorks, a subsidiary of Broadcom Corp., and open up a new front in an interface battle between 3GIO and PCI-X.
Intel is expected to announce at the forum Plumas, a chip set for its Pentium 4 Xeon processors, which use a 400-MHz front-side bus. The chip set features a PCI-X bridge, links to an Infiniband bridge chip and support for two processors and two banks of double-data-rate SDRAM. A low-cost version, Plumas LE, eliminates the PCI-X bridge and supports just one bank of DDR memory. Both are slated for production late in the second quarter.
The processor giant may also disclose details of Cayuse, a follow-on chip set that will be Intel's first server core logic to support the 3GIO interconnect. Cayuse will support Xeon processors with a 533-MHz front-side bus.
Analysts and OEMs generally think Intel will find its reentry into the server chip set market slow going. Although the company offers a number of server chip sets including the NX, which supports SDRAM, and the 840, which supports Rambus DRAM it has not rolled out products aimed at mainstream servers using DDR memory.
Part of the reason Intel is getting back in this market may be its desire to plow the way for 3GIO, a follow-on to the PCI bus that Intel is currently spearheading through a definition phase. ServerWorks which claims it has 80 percent of the market for server core logic and boasts design wins in as many as 200 shipping servers plans to support PCI-X 2.0 for upcoming 533-MHz front-side-bus processors. The company has no current plans to support 3GIO.
Indeed, a broad schism is opening in the computer industry between backers of 3GIO and PCI-X. Compaq Computer Corp. has gone on record saying it has no plans to support 3GIO in its servers and has led the charge to define PCI-X as a more evolutionary path.
"The test over the next six to 12 months will be whether Intel can regain customers in the server chip set business. I don't know if Intel will find it that easy to get back into this market," said Nathan Brookwood, an independent analyst with Insight64 (Saratoga, Calif.).
Intel's new play in this market "will be challenging for ServerWorks, but they have a good position as an incumbent," said Kevin Krewell, senior analyst for The Microprocessor Report.
Raju Vegesna, founder of ServerWorks (Santa Clara, Calif.), shrugged off the Intel challenge. He said that his company's proprietary interconnect, called IMB, has better throughput and latency than 3GIO and is already shipping in 3 million chip sets. ServerWorks also has a cross-license with Intel that Vegesna claims allows it to build chip sets to current and future Intel processor buses until 2008.
"We will be here for a long time," Vegesna said.
One OEM familiar with both companies' product plans said the new Intel parts do not represent a strong technical challenge to ServerWorks. "ServerWorks has pretty comparable parts," said the source, who asked to remain anonymous.