PC makers ramp up for new processor

NEW YORK— Servers and workstations are about to get a boost in processing power with the expected release this month of the Xeon, the next-generation Pentium II from Intel Corp., which PC makers said will unlock four- and eight-way processing power.

Computer manufacturers, including Dell Computer Corp., IBM Corp., NEC Technologies Inc., Gateway 2000 Inc., Micron Electronics Inc., Hitachi PC Corp., Compaq Computer Corp. and others, have announced plans to produce new high-end servers incorporating the Xeon soon after its planned release June 29. Many of the major server and workstation manufacturers gave customers a first peek at their new equipment at last week's PC Expo trade fair in New York City.

The Xeon promises a dramatic enhancement in the performance of demanding applications, including enterprise-resource planning packages, graphics-intense 3-D rendering and simulation software used by the military and law enforcement agencies.

The new processor also is expected to increase the efficiency of clustering, which large enterprises— including many federal organizations— use to build in redundancy and ensure mission-critical applications never go down, vendors said.

The new Xeon will come out of the gate with higher processor clock and bus speeds, debuting at 400 MHz with a 512K Level 2 cache expandable to 2M and a 100 MHz bus. Intel plans a 450 MHz Xeon by the end of the year, said J. Anthony Toghia, components technical marketing engineer for Intel.

These factors will allow manufacturers to design more powerful systems, allowing for servers with up to eight processors, the company said. By comparison, a four-way Xeon system is expected to run about 40 percent better than four-way Pentium Pro systems.

At PC Expo, PC makers were limited in what they could say and do with their new servers due to a near-gag order imposed by Intel, which wants to keep as much attention focused on its creation before the spotlight moves to the actual hardware the processor will power.

One vendor said Intel's rules required locked server boxes if vendors were running a demonstration. A box could be opened only if it was not part of a demo.

One company that would not be restrained from talking about its server line was Dell, which increased its market share to 4 percent, boosting its rank in servers shipped from sixth place in 1996 to fourth place is 1997, according to International Data Corp.

"We've taken the direct model and sold servers through it," said Scott Weinbrandt, director of server brand marketing.

About half of what Dell ships are high-end, two-way and four-way Pentium Pro-equipped servers, so Dell expects to have a strong showing with its Xeon-powered PowerEdge 6300, Weinbrandt said.

Dell has placed more emphasis on servers over the past two years and recently has broke ground on a new manufacturing plant in Austin, Texas. Workers will use a method of manufacturing at the plant in which they shepherd the server down the assembly line, seeing it through its entire configuration, Weinbrandt said.

Gateway also plans to have a Xeon-equipped server ready for shipment soon after Intel's June 29 announcement.

The ALR9400 stretches the 450NX chipset design meant for four processors to fit six processors into the box, said Ray Hebert, senior manager of Gateway ALR servers. The Gateway server will have 8G of memory and room for up to 18 hard drives, for a total of about half a terabyte of storage, Hebert said. It also will have 14 64-bit peripheral component interconnect slots, including four that are hot swappable. The Gateway server will be designed to run well in The Santa Cruz Operation Inc. operating system environment, which is used in some government operations, he said.

Among the other manufacturers showing new servers at PC Expo, Hitachi said its VisionBase line will incorporate the Xeon, as will the IBM Nefinity line and the server lines of NEC, Compaq and Micron, according to officials representing those companies.

Manufacturers were reluctant to discuss prices, citing the agreement they signed with Intel, but most said the Xeon servers will not cost much more than current multiprocessor models. Analysts have said the boost in processing power should come at little extra cost over existing Pentium Pro servers.

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