Intel introduces first server chips with 3D transistors

Intel's E3-1200 V2 chips for microservers are based on Ivy Bridge, while E5-4600 chips are based on Sandy Bridge

Intel on Monday announced faster and more power-efficient Xeon server processors, including the low-power E3 chip that has 3D transistors and is the first server processor based on Ivy Bridge microarchitecture.

The new processors include the eight Xeon E5-4600 chips for midrange servers and 11 low-power Xeon E3 chips for microservers, which are low-power servers designed mainly for Web serving and cloud applications. A number of server makers including Dell, IBM, Hewlett-Packard, Lenovo, Quanta and Cisco Systems are expected to announce servers based on the new chips.

The chips are being announced as companies look to boost performance while lowering power costs of operating servers that handle Web searches and social media databases, for instance. The new chips will allow for faster throughput through technologies like PCI-Express 3.0, and also enable robust virtualization by deploying more virtual machines at faster speeds.

There is an insatiable demand for data thanks to the growing number of mobile devices and PCs, so more powerful servers are needed in data centers to crunch that data, said Dylan Larson, Xeon platform marketing director at Intel.

"While the servers guys aren't building client devices, we are delivering the infrastructure they connect to," Larson said.

Intel is high on the low-power E3 chips to jump-start the microserver category, which is still in its infancy but expected to grow along with Web and cloud activity in data centers. The chips are targeted at single-socket microservers, which share multiple components such as memory and power supply. Large Web companies typically buy microservers in volumes to scale performance, and E3 chips are targeted at dense, single-socket servers.

"It's a very exciting segment of the server market," said Paul Otellini, during a speech at the shareholder's meeting last week. It's a single-digit market in terms of the overall server market, but growing in significance, Otellini said.

Intel announced 11 quad-core processors as part of its new E3-1200 V2 family, which is based on the chip maker's new Ivy Bridge architecture. The new chips deliver more performance-per-watt and support more memory and storage density to servers. The E3 chips are made using the latest 22-nm manufacturing process, which brings 3D transistors and compact circuitry to the chips, which results in more power savings and performance.

Dell is already using the new E3-1200 V2 series processors in its PowerEdge C5220 microserver, which was announced last week. A server with E3-1200 V2 processors drawing 17 watts of power in a 3U rack space could provide 53 percent more performance than a 20-watt Sandy Bridge Xeon CPU. Under some installations, Intel has measured up to a 3.6 times performance for the new microserver chips on a rack basis compared to predecessors.

Intel later this year also plans to announce a server chip based on its Atom processor code-named Centerton for microservers. Atom chips are mostly found in smartphones and tablets, and the new server chip variant will draw just 6 watts of power. Companies are already experimenting with servers with a congregation of low-power chips to deliver better performance-per-watt on lightweight and volume workloads such as Web transactions. Intel may compete in the space with ARM-based chips, which are already being used in some servers from companies like HP.

The new E5-4600 chips are targeted four-socket servers handling intensive tasks such as database processing, private cloud transactions or high-performance computing, Larson said. The chip is based on the Sandy Bridge microarchitecture.

Intel is looking to maximize the density of servers with the E5-4600 chips, Larson said. A four-socket server with E5 can accommodate up to 48 memory slots, and the chip provides the throughput capabilities and memory channels for faster virtual machine deployment or in-memory transactions, Larson said. The E5 chips can also handle high-performance computing loads.

The E5-4600 chips have up to eight cores and run at clock speeds of up to 2.7GHz, and a processor can handle 16 threads simultaneously. A four-socket server could have 32 processing cores running 64 threads simultaneously.

An E5-4600 processor in a four-socket server is close to 88 percent faster than a comparable two-socket server with Xeon processor E5-2600 chips, which is also based on Sandy Bridge and announced in March this year. On virtualization, a four-socket server with E5-4600 chips are more than twice as fast as a two-socket server with E5-2600 chips, according to Intel benchmarks.

The E3-1200 V2 product family ranges draws between 17 watts to 45 watts of power and is priced from US$189 to $884 in quantities of 1,000. The E5-4600 with four, six and eight cores are priced from $551 to $3,616.

Intel also introduced new E5-2400 based on the Sandy Bridge microarchitecture, which are targeted at two-socket servers. The product family ranges from $188 to $1,440.

Agam Shah covers PCs, tablets, servers, chips and semiconductors for IDG News Service. Follow Agam on Twitter at @agamsh. Agam's e-mail address is

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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