Intel launches 32/64-bit Xeon processor "Nocona"

Santa Clara (CA) - Intel today made its first step into the 32/64-bit arena with the launch of its next generation workstation processor. The new Xeon, formerly code-named "Nocona", comes with the 64-bit extension set EM64T and catches up to AMD's Opteron approach.

Intel's Monday announcement closes a chapter in which AMD was the only choice, if customers needed a processor with support for 32-bit and 64-bit applications. Nocona, the manufacturer's new Xeon processor, follows AMD's Opteron strategy and for now leaps ahead with some new innovative features.

Intel does not like being portrayed as the one who confirmed AMD's 64-bit strategy as the way to go. Instead, company officials point out that feature integration is the real advantage of the new system. Vice President Abhi Talwalkar said that there are "lots of new things in the new chipset E7525," which was introduced along Nocona. The chipset (code name "Tumwater") includes a PCI Express interface and support for DDR2 memory - two features AMD does not offer right now. "The platform really delivers a collection of new technologies integrated together," Talwalkar said in a webcast on Monday.

The dual-processor capable Xeon is targeted at workstations and available in frequencies of 2.8 GHz, 3 GHz, 3.4 GHz, and 3.6 GHz. According to Talwalker, a server-version of Nocona will be announced "within 60 days" which likely will include the server chipset "Lindenhurst". Itanium remains Intel's 64-bit only high end offering of Intel and is promoted towards back-end servers.

Intel claims that 90-nm chip Nocona and Tumwater boost performance by 30 percent, if compared to previous Xeon platforms. According to the company, there are no modifications necessary to current applications, if users want to run them on the new Xeon.

Nathan Brookwood, analyst with Insight 64, believes that Intel's announcement is good news and bad news for AMD. "It is clear that Intel is ratifying AMD's strategy with its Opteron processor," he said. "Also, Software developers do not have to be worried anymore of writing 64-bit applications for only one platform." Now, software could be programmed for AMD processors and then equipped with Intel's EM64T extensions.

However, AMD so far was the only solution on the 32-bit/64-bit market with Intel trailing with an expensive high-end and 64-bit only chip. "Rather than being black and white, the market has turned somewhat grey," Brookwood said. This might not necessarily be a disadvantage for AMD, since Intel also could open markets for AMD. "AMD's market share will go up dramatically over the next three to six quarters," Brookwood believes. "It only can go up."

While Intel intends the majority of its workstation and server processors as 32 and 64 bit capable by mid of 2005, consumers will not see an equivalent on the Pentium platform for some time. "As the market requires 64 bit, we will be there with a product," said Talwalkar. Brookwood said that this call from the market is still far in the future: "Some consumers are interested in 64 bit today, because it is trendy." The mass market however was driven by applications and this software could be several years away, he said.