Months earlier than expected but still half a year behind its competition, Intel Corp. has started shipping server multiprocessors that have two computing engines on a single chip.
The new dual-core Xeon chips for two-processor servers promise up to a 50 percent improvement over systems with two single-core processors, said Shannon Poulin, director of product marketing at Intel's Server Platform Group.
Both Intel and Advanced Micro Devices Inc. launched dual-core chips this year as a way of gaining performance while controlling power consumption. AMD initially focused on servers while Intel started with chips for desktop computers.
As a result, the new Xeon is arriving about six months after AMD's dual-core Opteron chip made its debut.
"We are very committed to enabling the industry for dual- and multi-core, and that's why we were taking a very measured approach to getting these out there and putting them in platforms," Poulin said.
But Intel's hand was forced when it decided to switch from releasing higher-frequency chips to those with two or more computing engines, said Gordon Haff, an analyst at the research firm Illuminata.
"Intel did not sit back and intentionally plan to roll out first a dual-core desktop and then a server," he said. "It's what their technology forced them to do when Intel decided to accelerate dual-core development."
AMD has managed to make inroads in servers, which are used for Web sites, applications and storage. Its market share was 11.2 percent in the second quarter, according to Mercury Research.
Intel still dominates with an 88.8 percent share in so-called x86 servers. It also plans to price its chips aggressively — at or lower than single-core server chips. The new Xeons cost $1,043 each when bought in volume.
Intel originally intended to launch the dual-core Xeon early next year but was able to move earlier than expected. Poulin credited "exquisite engineering," though AMD said its larger rival rushed because of the stiff competition.
"We've been keeping the chair warm and we welcome them to the party we started back in April," said Patrick Patla, AMD's director of server and workstation marketing.
As has been the case with Intel's desktop dual-core processors, AMD claims its chips were designed from the start with dual-core use in mind. Intel, AMD claims, took existing chips and bolted them together.
"It's pretty much a no-show from a performance and technology perspective," Patla said. "Intel is talking a good story about next-generation architectures, but they haven't really done anything about it."
Intel's chips will benefit from an ability to handle two tasks, or threads, at once using a technology called Hyper-Threading. As a result, a two-core Xeon chip in a two-processor server can execute eight threads.
Later this year, Intel will launch dual-core chips for servers running four or more dual-core processors. In a system with 32 processors, up to 128 threads can run at once.
By the middle of next year, "we are going to be in a situation where Intel will have erased some of the functional gaps that they have had with AMD," Haff said. "By erasing the gap, Intel certainly has the opportunity to bring their much larger and better resourced manufacturing and development organization to bear."