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Intel to exceed 8 cores with new server processor

Westmere-EX will be a successor to Nehalem-EX

Intel said it would release a successor to its eight-core Nehalem-EX chips next year with more cores and faster speeds as it tries to push the limits of server performance.

The new chips, code-named Westmere-EX, will be targeted at servers with four sockets and higher, said Stephen Smith, vice president and director of PC client operations and enabling at Intel, during a webcast speech.

The Nehalem-EX processors, available under the Xeon 7500 and 6500 brands, were introduced in March for high-end servers that require high uptime. Intel has called Nehalem-EX processors its fastest to date, and the chips include error correction and reliability, availability and serviceability (RAS) features.

However, the Nehalem-EX chips are manufactured using the older 45-nanometre process while Westmere-EX chips will be manufactured using the more advanced 32-nanometre process.

Intel has packed faster clock speeds and more cores on Westmere chips while consuming the same amount of power as chips made using the 45-nm process, Smith said.

Increasing chip core counts is a way for Intel to improve performance while trying to reduce the power drawn by the processor. Intel in March released Westmere-EP server chips made using the 32-nm process for single- and two-socket servers. The chips, available with up to six cores under the brand name Xeon 5600, include up to 50 percent more cores and boast 60 percent better performance than its predecessors, according to Intel.

"We always have to trade off whether we're going for just raw performance and the same functionality or whether we're putting some more capability in. In this case we chose to mix both," Smith said.

Smith declined to reveal the clock speed and number of cores on the Westmere-EX chips. The company hasn't nailed down the quarter next year in which Westmere-EX chips will be released. Smith characterised the release as a "midcycle refresh", and said it would offer socket-compatibility to protect the investment of server makers offering Nehalem-EX processors in systems.

"We just launched Nehalem-EX ... These platforms typically have a ... two-plus year lifetime." Smith said. "We are well along in development and we are confident that we have a product that will give us a great performance boost. It will go into the same sockets, so the idea here is the platform is an investment that the OEMs have made."

Intel added 50 percent more cores to six with Westmere-EP, and could do the same when it upgrades to Westmere-EX, said Nathan Brookwood, principal analyst with Insight 64.

Nehalem-EX chips include up to eight cores, which points to Intel packing up to 12 processing cores in Westmere-EX, Brookwood said. That could give a massive performance boost to servers, he said.

Data centers will be able to handle more workloads without increasing the number of servers, Brookwood said. The new chips could also help cut electricity costs while consolidating servers in smaller spaces.

Westmere-EX also sets the bar higher in the ongoing core battle between Intel and its rival AMD.

"What's interesting about that is that AMD has 12 cores in their current Magny-Cours product, and has indicated they will have 16 cores in their 32-nanometer server product coming out next year," Brookwood said.

The server processor, code-named Interlagos, will be built on a new microarchitecture called Bulldozer.


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