SAN JOSE, Calif. – Intel Corp. announced the Xeon E7, a new family of dual-threaded server processors including the company's first ten-core parts. The new chips will further eat into the RISC server business, form the next battle line with archrival AMD and bring the Xeon family on par with Intel's Itanium server processors.
The 32nm Xeon E7 supports up to 20 threads, 2 TBytes main memory and 30 Mbytes of last-level cache in a 513 mm2 die. Intel is launching 18 versions of the chip with prices ranging from $774 to $4,616.
On a Cisco server, the 10-core E7 hit 1,030 on the SPECint benchmark and 724 SPECfp on a Dell server. The chip also adds hardware support for new AES instructions boosting encryption performance about ten percent.
Intel claims high-end E7 chips will offer 99 percent of the performance of an IBM Power 750 and 160 to 600 percent more performance than Sun T5450 and M4000 CPUs, respectively. AMD already sells 12-core server processors, but they use two dice and use lower performance cores.
AMD may leapfrog Intel this fall when it rolls out Interlagos, a 32nm single-threaded server processor that packs 16 of its new Bulldozer cores on two dice. This year AMD will be able to match Intel with parts at the same process node after shipping products for some time that were a process node behind Intel, said Nathan Brookwood, principal of market watcher Insight64 (Saratoga, Calif.).
Intel has gained an edge on AMD in two areas. It can now support up to eight processors in a system without external glue logic; AMD supports up to four CPUs in this approach. In addition, with E7 Intel has doubled to 2 TBytes and 128 DIMMs the amount of external memory it can support, far beyond AMD's memory limit.
With the E7, Intel now believes its Xeon line offers similar performance and reliability features as its Itanium line.
"There is no workload now that Xeon cannot handle," said Kirk Skaugen, general manager of Intel's data center group. "Xeon and Itanium will leapfrog each other over time, but performance is no longer a differentiation at the chip level—it's an OS choice," he said.
Hewlett-Packard, for example, only supports Itanium processors on its legacy server operating systems such as HP-UX, the Tandem Non-Stop kernel and versions of VMS.
Intel remains committed to Itanium, despite Oracle's decision to no longer develop new database software for it. Intel may roll out details of the next-generation Itanium, called Poulson, on the tenth anniversary of the architecture on May 29, and it has a follow on chip in the works called Kittson.
Long term, it appears Itanium could be overtaken by Xeon as have older RISC server processors. Intel now commands about two-thirds of the server processor market with its $30 billion Xeon and $4 billion Itanium businesses up from about a third of the market at $19 billion for Xeon and $100 million for Itanium in 2002.
"For more than eight years almost all sever CPU growth has been in the x86 and the RISC market has been stagnant," said Brookwood.
Intel has won the server business with products that offer lower systems costs, wide availability of software and similar performance. One of the biggest challenges for Intel's Xeon business is the arrival of new low power ARM-based CPUs targeting power-constrained data centers.