Intel Nehalem opens RISC apps to x86

The release of the Intel Nehalem EX server chip may make it viable to run applications currently restricted to RISC-based systems on cheaper x86 hardware, according to analyst firm Ideas International.

The release of the Intel Nehalem EX server chip may make it viable to run applications currently restricted to RISC-based systems on cheaper x86 hardware, according to analyst firm Ideas International.

The Intel Nehalem EX chip

The Intel Nehalem EX chip
(Credit: Intel)

The Nehalem EX chips, which are scheduled for release this quarter, form part of the Xeon line of server chips. Featuring up to eight cores per chip, Intel said the giant chips represent the largest ever performance jump over a previous generation processor.

Despite rapid increases in the processing power of computer chips running on x86 architecture, many larger enterprises still use RISC-based systems to run business critical applications, since the simplified instruction set provides higher performance under many circumstances.

With the introduction of these next-generation x86 Intel chips, Ideas International analyst Walter Katz said that many of these high performance applications were previously restricted to RISC-based servers and mainframes, but are now able to run on the x86 architecture.

"I would suspect what was a dedicated mainframe application five years ago may now run on x86," said Katz. This could represent a considerable saving for business, as Katz said the affordability of x86 hardware over RISC-based hardware could be "15 to 20 times better".

Fellow Ideas International analyst Tony Iams agreed, and said that virtualisation has brought a new degree of reliability to x86 hardware. By clustering multiple low cost x86 servers using software, the likelihood of both system downtime and system failure could be considerably reduced, he said.

With continued price falls in x86 hardware, this makes it increasingly competitive with RISC-based systems. "With business critical applications, it's a very simple equation. What is the cost of the system versus what is the cost of downtime or if the system fails."