Intel plans 32nm super-chip for servers

Westmere-EX will arrive sometime next year as a 'midlife refresh' for the eight-core Nehalem-EX chips, and may pack more cores
Written by Matthew Broersma, Contributor

Intel is planning a sequel to its eight-core Nehalem-EX server processors for next year, which will introduce 32-nanometre manufacturing technology to the company's high-end server range.

The chips, codenamed Westmere-EX, will complement the 32nm Westmere-EP Xeon 5600 chips introduced in March. The Xeon 5600 processors are aimed at workstations or servers with two sockets, while the Westmere-EX line will be tailored for servers with two, four or more sockets, Intel said on Thursday during a roadmap update webcast.

Intel released server chips based on Nehalem-EX under the Xeon 6500 and 7500 brands in March, at the same time as the Westmere-EP Xeon 5600 processors arrived.

The Nehalem-EX chips use a 45nm manufacturing process, which is less energy efficient and yields lower performance than the 32nm process on which Westmere-EP is based. EP stands for Efficient Performance, while EX is Intel's abbreviation for Expandable Server.

The Westmere-EX product will bring the more efficient 32nm process to high-end servers and is also likely to bring an increase in the number of cores, although Intel declined to give details on the core count or clock speed for the Westmere-EX products. The company did not say when in 2011 the Westmere-EX processors will arrive.

The Westmere-EX chips will be socket-compatible with the Nehalem-EX Xeon 7500 chips, said Stephen Smith, Intel's director of PC client operations and enabling, during the webcast.

He characterised the Westmere-EX chips as a midlife refresh for the Xeon 7500-based platform.

"Westmere-EX... utilises the same platform infrastructure and is essentially a CPU refresh, in the same socket," Smith said. "This is approximately midlife for this Xeon 7500-based or Nehalem-EX platform."

The Nehalem-EX 7500 introduced in March brought in high-end features including some reliability, availability and serviceability features previously reserved for Intel's Itanium line. The new features included extended page tables and virtual I/O capabilities.

Westmere-EX will continue Intel's rollout of 32nm technology across its chip range, which began with desktop and mobile processors at CES in January. At that show, Intel launched 27 chips in the Core i3, Core i5 and Core i7 ranges, introducing 32nm and adding integrated graphics and Turbo Boost overclocking.

Intel said the use of 32nm technology in the Westmere-EP Xeon 5600 chip has brought with it considerable power efficiency and performance benefits. Comparing the chip with Xeon single-core servers available five years ago, Smith said the Xeon 5600 could offer a 95 percent reduction in power usage and use up 15 times less space in the datacentre.

"This is pretty attractive to folks who manage a datacentre, because typically the datacentre is area-constrained," Smith said.

Alternatively, the newer chip could increase performance by 15 times, with an eight percent reduction in power usage, he added.

Intel's server processors compete directly with those from AMD, which also feature an increasing number of processor cores. AMD's Magny-Cours server chip features 12 cores, and AMD has said it is planning a 16-core, 32nm server chip code-named Interlagos for next year.

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