While the company works to increase the speed and performance of its processors, with the release of the new Xeon processor with support for four-way processing and either 512K, 1MB or 2MB of Level 2 Cache, the company is also working feverishly with several server vendors to improve I/O performance.
John Miner, Intel's vice president and general manager of the Enterprise Server Group, said that the latest Xeon chip and the current version of PCI I/O is "balanced," meaning that the I/O is fast enough to keep up with the processor. That may not be in the case, however, with eight-way systems, for which Intel will add support in the second quarter, Miner said. Intel plans to enable eight-way processing via the Profusion chip set gained in its acquisition of Corollary Inc.
While he declined to discuss specifics, Miner said the PCI implementation on eight-way servers will be "more, better and faster," which, he said, will result in better performance on database and data mining applications. Another PCI implementation in the works, called PCI-X, was developed by IBM, Compaq Computer Corp. and Hewlett-Packard Co. That spec, which Intel is supporting, should hit the market this year. PCI-X promises speeds of 133MHz and will transfer data at up to 1GB per second, more than a sixfold increase over today's PCI implementation.
Intel is also working on another I/O spec, dubbed Next Generation I/O, due sometime in 2000, which is not supported by IBM, HP or Compaq. According to sources, the three server companies are withholding support because they believe it gives Intel too much control over server design and that the process will not be open. But Miner said he "doesn't understand what the sticking points are" and that Next Generation I/O will be "very open, industry developed and governed and royalty free."
Politics aside, ensuring backward compatibility for all the forthcoming I/O specifications is another issue needing to be addressed by Intel and the PCI Special Interest Group. Yesterday's Xeon launch was accompanied by announcements from a number of PC server and workstation vendors, who will offer the new processor, which can support up to 4GB of memory. In 1,000-unit quantities, the chip will cost $824 for the 512KB version, $1,980 for the 1MB version and $3,692 for the 2MB version.
Dell Computer Corp., for example, has begun offering the new chip in its workstations. Users will be able to get the 450MHz Xeon processor with 1MB of cache in Dell Precision WorkStation 610 models. The chip with either 512KB, 1MB or 2MB of cache is available in Dell PowerEdge 6300 and PowerEdge 6350 workstations as well.