Intel plans to unveil its first processor with 64-bit extensions technology next week, according to sources familiar with the company's plans.
Back in February, Intel announced that Nocona, code name for the next-generation of the Xeon processor, would be the company's first chip to incorporate EM64T technology. EM64T is Intel's name for its 64-bit extensions to the x86 instruction set, a concept pioneered by rival chip maker Advanced Micro Devices.
Intel will release Nocona on Monday along with the Tumwater chipset for workstations, sources say. The Lindenhurst chipset for servers will follow in the third quarter, the sources say.
An Intel spokesperson declines to comment on the unannounced products.
The Nocona processor will allow workstations and servers to run both 32-bit and 64-bit applications on the same system, provided that server uses a 64-bit operating system. AMD was the first to introduce such a processor with the launch of the Opteron chip in April of 2003.
As AMD worked toward the release of Opteron, Intel shied away from making concrete predictions about its plans for x86 servers with 64-bit extensions, and said 64-bit desktops wouldn't appear until the end of the decade.
Intel's strategy was complicated by its 64-bit Itanium processor for high-end servers. At one point early in Itanium's history, Intel envisioned that Itanium would become the dominant architecture for its server products, according to analysts.
Itanium is based on a completely different instruction set than Nocona or Opteron, forcing IT managers who wanted to take advantage of Itanium's performance to rewrite their applications using an unfamiliar instruction set. Software support for Itanium has improved in the past few years, but the chip has settled into a role as an alternative to RISC (reduced instruction set computing) processors from companies such as Sun Microsystems and IBM.
However, several major server vendors pledged to release Opteron-based servers in 2003 and 2004, including IBM, Sun, and Hewlett-Packard, forcing Intel to also respond to the market demand for extensions technology in servers. Opteron allows IT managers to create 64-bit versions of certain applications that can take advantage of the wider registers and ability to address more memory in a 64-bit chip, while still running their crucial 32-bit applications on the same server.
The appeal of x86 64-bit servers will broaden later this year when a 64-bit version of Microsoft's Windows operating system is released. Several 64-bit versions of Linux are currently available that will work with either Nocona or Opteron.
Nocona and the new chip sets incorporate other design enhancements besides 64-bit extensions technology. The processor is essentially the same as the 90-nanometer Prescott Pentium 4 processor unveiled earlier this year, with 1MB of Level 2 cache and an 800-MHz front-side bus. Intel puts the server versions of its chips through stringent testing and validation efforts to ensure they can handle the more demanding tasks performed by servers.
The newest Xeon processor will also support the PCI Express interconnect technology along with the Tumwater and Lindenhurst chipsets. PCI Express is a fundamental change in a chipset's bus architecture from a parallel design to a serial design. This allows signals to move at faster rates throughout the chipset.
Intel will also support DDR2 (double data rate) memory with the new processors and chipsets. DDR2 memory can operate more reliably at high speeds than its predecessor, DDR memory.
Until the Nocona processors arrive, there is no way to know how they will stack up against the Opteron chip. Part of Opteron's appeal to IT managers is its excellent performance ratings generated by an integrated memory controller and the Hypertransport interconnect technology. Nocona will probably outperform Opteron on some applications and trail it on others, IBM executives said in February.
IBM, HP, and Dell have all said they will support the Nocona processor in their servers.