Intel to produce more powerful server chip

The Nehalem EX chip will increase the number of cores inside a single chip from six to eight, while each core will be able to handle two threads of software

Intel will start making an eight-core version of its Xeon server chip in the second half of this year, with its release planned for early 2010.

The chipmaker provided a preview of the processor, code-named Nehalem-EX, on Tuesday. The processor, designed for four-socket and larger servers, will replace Intel's existing DP line, and includes features previously introduced in the company's Itanium server processors.

"This may or may not be a solution for mid-sized companies, but we certainly expect to see a degree of migration from Risc-based systems, where people need the high-level processing and scalability," said Alan Priestley, an Intel enterprise marketing manager.

The processor packs up to eight processor cores on a single die, with each core supporting two threads via hyperthreading for up to 16 threads per chip. It also has Machine Check Architecture (MCA) additions, which monitor memory and processor for data corruption during operation and attempt recovery where possible .

Other aspects of the chip designed to improve performance include Quick Path Interconnect (QPI) technology and direct CPU-to-CPU interconnection, which lets servers scale to four- or eight-socket systems. Third-party controllers can be used to increase the socket count.

Nehalem-EX offers the highest-ever jump in performance from a previous-generation chip, Intel said, with 2.5 times the processing power and up to nine times the memory bandwidth of the Intel Xeon 7400 series.

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The Xeon preview comes ahead of the expected launch of AMD's rival high-end Istanbul processor in early June.

Intel's new processor will be of interest to a relatively niche market, but one with extremely high margins, Nathaniel Martinez, a program director at IDC, told ZDNet UK.

"This is really about targeting organisations with very high-end workloads; probably databases and virtualisation," Martinez said. "The timing is interesting because AMD has traditionally had the larger presence at this end of the market, and it looks like Intel is trying to head off the competition."

IBM has already demonstrated a high-end server that is being designed to use eight Nehalem EX processors, yielding 64 cores. That does not come as a surprise, since IBM has more to gain from the market than other server vendors, Martinez said.

"IBM has a good installed base that it can sell these very high-end machines to, and was probably the most successful vendor in terms of four-socket machines," he said.