Is Xeon heading to the low end?

Intel plans to push its Pentium III Xeon processor into the low end next year.

In the first half of 2000, the chip maker plans to introduce two 700+MHz Xeon processors, one with 2MB and the other with 1MB of integrated Level 2 cache.

"The integrated cache will allow us to extend Xeon into the more affordable low end," said John Miner, vice president and general manager of the company's communications products group, during his keynote speech Wednesday at the Intel Developer Forum. Miner, who assumed his new communications products role today, formerly ran Intel's enterprise server group.

At an event dominated by Intel's new network processor architecture and its forthcoming 64-bit Merced chip, Miner touted Intel's 32-bit architecture.

According to Miner, a 32-bit chip, code-named Foster and exceeding 1GHz, will follow the 700+MHz Xeons, as well as Merced, in 2001.

"Our 32-bit processors have a lot of legs," he said.

While Intel CEO Craig Barrett sounded the ease-of-use call during his speech yesterday, Miner assumed the e-commerce mantle.

Touting Intel-based servers built for high-availability, Miner and David Yeger, enterprise architect at Merrill Lynch, demonstrated a server that mimicked Merrill Lynch's 16-node, VI-architecture cluster, which provides portfolio data to the firm's brokers and clients. Merrill Lynch was able to build the 250-transaction-per-second system for under $1 million, (£610k) Yeger said.

Miner also demonstrated System I/O, the new I/O technology announced by Intel and its partners yesterday. The demo was based on a prototype ASIC that Intel is developing.

System I/O, according to Miner, combines the best features of Future I/O and NGIO (Nest Generation I/O), two formerly competing standards. Miner said System I/O standard link speeds reach 2.5Gbps and can be aggregated into 12 links running 30Gbps. The initial specification for System I/O will be released by year end, Miner said.

Christening IXA

Miner was followed by Mark Christensen, vice president of Intel's network communications group, who, as expected, formally announced the Internet Exchange Architecture, a new design for communications equipment that Intel says will standardise the way companies develop and deploy networking hardware.

The architecture breaks hardware into modules, such as switching, which are then controlled using software, said Christensen.

"This is a new kind of network," he said.

Built into the IXA is the ability to offer support for voice, video, data, and security and to support it at broadband-like high speeds.

At the core of the architecture is the Internet Exchange Processor 1200, a new processor for networking and communications equipment that was also formally announced today. The chip includes six multithreaded packet processing engines and is built on Intel's StrongARM processor core. It offers 1,000 MIPs of processing power but only consumes 5 watts of power, Christensen said.

"This network processor is specifically built for moving packets of information, whatever they might be," he said.

Christensen also announced that Intel has finalised its acquisition of Level One Communications and begun the acquisition of NetBoost Corp, a Mountain View, Calif., maker of software and silicon for networking. Intel today also established the Intel Communications fund, a new $200 (£122m)million investment fund to encourage companies to develop products around the IXA.