HP's new Core workstations highlight Opteron's need for more performance

Palo Alto (CA) - Hewlett-Packard (HP) announced three new workstations based on Intel's Core 2 Duo processor, which was formally introduced yesterday. For now, HP will limit the Core 2 Duo offering to its entry- and mid-level workstations and keep its existing Opteron machine with a higher degree of expandability on the high-end.

The competition between AMD's and Intel's desktop processors expands well beyond the consumer PC deep into corporate applications as well as workstation applications. Especially the ongoing revival of the workstation and the substantial performance increase of desktop processors have some interesting implications for the battle between AMD and Intel: The new Core architecture is strong enough to close in on AMD Opteron-based systems, which apparently could use a performance increase in the near future.

HP was one of the first companies that announced a workstation lineup that has been refreshed with Intel's Core 2 Duo processors. HP introduced the brand-new xw4400 on the low-end in addition to the previously launched Core-based (Xeon 5100-series) xw6400 and xw8400 in the mid-level. As one of the most visible vendors offering AMD processors throughout its computer systems, HP continues to offer its xw9300 workstation, which integrates Opteron dual-core processors as apparently best performing workstation platform.

HP's new xw4400

But according to HP product marketing manager Sean Tucker, the AMD advantage may have disappeared for many customers. "There is a shift happening," he told TG Daily. "What we have seen with Core 2 Duo," he said, "is the most important price/performance improvement in five years." While the desktop processor remains an entry-level solution for HP's workstations right now, the Xeon 5100-based xw8400 will be faster "in some applications" than the high-end xw9300, Tucker said. He indicated that HP may be rethinking the situation of the Opteron processor in its workstations, but declined to specify an exact time frame for such a move. "The performance advantage AMD has held for some time is clearly reduced," he said.

However, there are still a reasons for workstation buyers to choose the AMD system over the Intel machine. HP currently offers dual-graphics capability only in the xw9300 and claims that memory performance in the AMD system will trump the Intel system.

An interesting aspect of HP's new xw4400 system is HP's decision to combine the Core 2 Duo processor with a 975X chipset and not, as recommended by Intel for business platforms, a Q963 or Q965 chipset. As a result, the HP system is configured very much like a desktop PC built on Intel's "Bridge Creek" platform and will not carry Intel's "vPro" logo to identify a new "Averill" or "Averill Pro" platform. The key disadvantage of not using a Q965 chipset is the lack of support for Intel's Active Management Technology (AMT), which promises easier automated maintenance capability in large corporate environments. In turn, the 975X offers theoretical dual-graphics capability, whereas the Q963/965 do not. HP confirmed that the xw4400 in fact comes with two x16 ports, but while the first port is a full x16, the second connector will only function as an x4 version.

Tucker was not concerned about the lack of AMT and confirmed the apparent slow adoption of the technology in the industry. "We are offering a free management tool that essentially will do the same and our customers are satisfied with that. Time will tell, how important AMT will be," Tucker said.

HP will be offering the xw4400 starting 7 August. The xw6400 and xw8400 are available now.

Complete Core 2 Duo launch coverage:
Intel is back: Core 2 Duo launches
Core 2 Duo Logo Intel aims to ship 1 million Core 2 Duo processor within seven weeks
TG Daily interviews Intel: "Core is changing the game"
Official: Intel releases Core 2 Duo, Core 2 Extreme
Up to $16,000: Core 2 Duo computers flood the Net
The long road to Conroe
Tom's Hardware: Core 2 Duo smokes AMD's Athlon 64 X2
Intel to launch Merom, Conroe on Thursday
Four AMD dual-core prices now at or near Intel price/performance curve
Technology Background: Will Intel's Core Architecture Close the Technology Gap? (Tom's Hardware)