Multichip servers

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Intel arrives at the enterprise level with Xeon processors and eight-way architecture

By J.B. Miles

Special to GCN

If you're shopping for an enterprise-level multiprocessor server, you'll notice a new player with a familiar name: Intel Corp. The giant chipmaker, dominant in the PC and small server markets, is challenging RISC technology with multichip architectures built around Pentium III and Pentium III Xeon processors and Intel boards.

Symmetric multiprocessing servers with Intel chips, made by several dozen manufacturers, have a lock on the entry-level and midrange portions of the market. Single and dual Pentium II and III units loaded with Microsoft Windows NT or Windows 2000 account for almost 100 percent of the market for entry-level print, file and appliance servers.

Dual Pentium II, Pentium III and Pentium III Xeon servers have been edging out midrange systems based on IBM's Power PC, Hewlett-Packard's PA-RISC, Sun Microsystem's UltraSparc and Compaq's Alpha.

Quad, or four-way, Pentium III Xeon units with the capability to support NT and Win 2000, Linux, Solaris, UnixWare, NetWare and other proprietary Unix operating systems also are finding success as high-performance midrange servers.

And Intel has its sights set on the higher reaches of the enterprise market, with its new eight-way Profusion chip set and powerful 550-MHz Pentium III Xeon processors.

Tips for buyers
'Buy a unit that has as many processors as you can afford.

'Compare hard drive manufacturers' mean time between failure data as well as the rotational speeds and storage capacities of the drives.

'Use high-speed 40X or 48X CD-ROM drives.

'Buy a UPS.

'Choose redundancy options for maximum data security.

'Store backup tapes away from your servers in case of fire, flood or other catastrophe.

'Remember that Win 2000 and Linux are emerging as popular server operating systems and both offer multithreading for eight-way processing.

Before Intel released its Profusion chip set last year, even the best-designed four-way Pentium III Xeon systems couldn't compete with RISC systems in the high-end enterprise marketplace. But the new eight-way architecture is prompting server manufacturers such as Amdahl Corp., Compaq Computer Corp., Data General Corp., Dell Computer corp., Hewlett-Packard Co. and IBM Corp. to reshape their product lines. For users, it means that multichip servers will soon be the norm, said Warren Wilson, an analyst with market research company Summit Strategies Inc. of Boston.

'Single-processor servers will essentially evaporate this year, as two-way designs become the new entry-level standard. Four-way servers will quickly gain volume to vie with two-way boxes as the sweet spot of the market, while eight-way Profusion-based designs will become a popular high-end option in 2000,' Wilson said.

Other analysts say that four-way Pentium III Xeon platforms will continue to bridge the gap between midrange and small enterprise computing requirements, with the new Profusion systems being optimized for running very large database applications and decision support operations in large enterprises.

The accompanying chart reflects the fact that there aren't many Profusion servers out there yet, but Intel expects that to change by year's end.

The new Intel architecture incorporates an eight-way SMP CPU unit, a fast input/output subsystem and a large memory system. Three 100-MHz buses connect via a crossbar switch to the processor unit, I/O and memory. Two of the buses support a set of four CPUs each and the third connects to the I/O subsystem with cache coherency to reduce processor disruption.

Intergraph's Zx10 Server holds two processors and can use up to 8G of RAM. GSA pricing starts at $3,194.

The modular I/O system will support both legacy 32-bit PCI and new 64-bit PCI cards. Intel has said the Profusion chip set will support all current Pentium III Xeon processors and will also support future Cascades processors.

The Profusion chip set memory interface is a dual-port synchronous design that uses commercially available PC/100 synchronous dynamic RAM on registered dual in-line memory modules for up to 32G maximum memory, with Expanded Subscriber Module-100A supported, in the platform. The memory bandwidth is 800 Mbps per port for a total bandwidth of 1.6 Gbps.

Flexible flyer

Profusion is colorblind when it comes to compatibility with operating systems and applications. Most new operating systems, such as Windows 2000 and SCO Unix from the Santa Cruz Operation Inc. of Santa Cruz, Calif., are already optimized for eight-way SMP design, and many new applications have multithreading capabilities that will allow them to easily utilize the benefits of the new architecture.

The Profusion design also provides hardware support for RAID, disk hot-swap and failure detection, dual failover and hot-plug PCI, temperature sensing for system components, redundant power and fans, and error-correcting code.

Along with speed and fault-tolerance, scalability is a major requirement for server buyers. The upgrade path for Intel's Pentium processors is noteworthy, especially in the Pentium III series.

Pentium III comes in two flavors: basic and Xeon. Both the Pentium III and Pentium III Xeon designs incorporate Intel's Streaming Single-Instruction, Multiple-Data Extensions that boost overall performance by maximizing CPU utilization for streaming audio and video, voice recognition and other processor-intensive applications.

IBM's Netfinity 5500, with dual 500-MHz Pentium III processors and 10 hot-swap drive bays, starts at $4,865.

The Pentium III processors with 512K of Level 2 cache memory are well-suited for fast desktop and entry-level server processing requirements. Most of the dual-processor servers listed here can run at speeds between 600 MHz and 733 MHz and are fast and powerful enough for duty as appliance servers and for some midrange applications work.

The Pentium III Xeon processor is an enhanced version of the basic Pentium III, with more features and cache memory. It is designed mainly for use in midrange and high-end servers. Most current Pentium III Xeon processors operate at 500-MHz or 550-MHz speeds, with even faster versions on the horizon, including a prototype 1-GHz version.

These units come with 1M or 2M of Level 2 cache RAM, meaning they can store up to four times the data on-chip than can Pentium III processors with 512K of Level 2 cache. With greater Level 2 cache storage capacity comes greater speed, as cache memory gets data to the processor much more rapidly than data stored on a disk or in RAM.

Pentium III Xeon processors also feature the Extended Server Memory Architecture, which allows applications to store up to 32G of main memory'soon to be 64G'greatly surpassing the 4G memory limit of NT.

Users worried about upgrading their 32-bit Profusion Pentium III Xeon system to Intel's forthcoming 64-bit platforms such as Merced, which is due later this year, or later designs such as McKinley, Madison and Deerfield, might not have much cause for concern.

A white paper from the Aberdeen Group in Boston suggests that the release of the Profusion eight-way architecture is part of a larger, long-range road map for the Intel architecture; users wanting eight-way capability will not be hurt in the long run if they buy now rather than wait.

J.B. Miles of Pahoa, Hawaii, writes about communications and computers.
VendorProductPentium III processorsBoard designMemory (standard/ maximum)Hot-swap drive baysExpansion slotsPrice
Acer America Corp.
San Jose, Calif.
Altos 9100B500-MHzDual256M/1GEightFive PCI, two ISA$3,280 up
Altos 12000 Model 9550550-MHz XeonDual512M/2GEightFive PCI, one PCI/ISA$5,959 up
Altos 21000 Model 9550550-MHz XeonQuad512M/4GEightSix PCI, One PCI/ISA$8,200 up
Amdahl Corp.
Sunnyvale, Calif.
Teamserver M890ie550-MHz Xeon Quad256M/8G Eight10 PCI, one PCI/ISA $38,288
Teamserver L890ie550-MHz XeonQuad256M/4GEightSix PCI, One PCI/ISA$31,471
Teamserver G870ie550-MHzDual512M/2GEightSix PCI$9,061
Teamserver C870ix600-MHzDual128M/1GThreeThree PCI, two ISA$3,089
Teamserver HS900550-MHz XeonEight-way256M/32GEightFour PCI, six PCI/ISA (hot-plug)$49,868
AST Research Inc.
Irvine, Calif.
Premium 2000500-MHzDual128M/1GSixThree PCI, two ISA$3,525 up
Boldata Technologies Inc.
Fremont, Calif.
CSS 5000550-MHz XeonDual128M/1GSixThree PCI, two ISA$2,989 to $4,089
CSS 9000550-MHz XeonQuad128M/2GSixThree PCI, two ISA$6,099 to $9,559
Compaq Computer Corp.
ProLiant DL380R733-MHzDual128M/4GSixFour PCI$4,865 GSA
ProLiant 5500R550-MHz XeonQuad256M/4GFourFive PCI, one PCI/ISA (hot-plug)$6,720 GSA
ProLiant 6400R500-MHz XeonQuad128M/4GFourFive PCI, one PCI/ISA (hot-plug)$7,636 GSA
ProLiant 8500550-MHz XeonEight-way256M/8GFour11 PCI$13,887 GSA
CSS Laboratories Inc.
Irvine, Calif.
MaxPro 1100 Xeon550-MHz XeonDual128M/2GEightFive PCI, two ISA, one AGP$8,554 GSA
MaxPro 1500 Xeon550-MHz XeonDual128M/2G11Five PCI, two ISA, one AGP$8,911 GSA
PowerPro HS Xeon550-MHz XeonQuad128M/4GSixSix PCI, one PCI/ISA$11,710 GSA
Cubix Corp.
Carson City, Nev.
Z Model Option 1550-MHzDual64M/2GThreeFour PCI$6,582 up
Z Model Option 2550-MHzQuad128M/2GThreeFour PCI$8,574 up
RR Model Option 1550-MHzDual64M/2GThreeFour PCI$8,484 up
RR Model Option 2550-MHzQuad128M/2GThreeFour PCI$10,934 up
Data General Corp.
Westboro, Mass.
AV 1400700-MHzDual256M/2GFourFour PCI$5,117
AV 2700R600-MHzDual64M/1GSixSeven PCI$4,477 GSA
AV 3700R550-MHz XeonQuad128M/4GSixSeven PCI$7,165 GSA
AV 3704R550-MHz XeonQuad128M/4GSixSeven PCI$8,957 GSA
AV 8900550-MHz XeonEight-way256M/16GTwo10 PCI$21,117 GSA
Dell Computer Corp.
Round Rock, Texas
PowerEdge 4300500-MHzDual512M/2GEightFour PCI, two PCI/ISA$13,080
PowerEdge 4400600-MHzDual512M/2GEightFour PCI, two PCI/ISA$11,648
PowerEdge 6300550-MHz XeonQuad256M/4GEightFour PCI, two PCI/ISA$19,495
PowerEdge 8450550-MHz XeonEight-way512M/16GEightFour PCI, two PCI/ISA$53,465
DTK Computer Inc.
Chantilly, Va.
Cosmos NT Server600-MHzDual128M/2GFiveSix PCI, one ISA$1,281 up
Gateway Inc.
San Diego
ALR 7200500-MHzDual64M/1GThreeSix PCI, one PCI/ISA$2,439 up
ALR 7300500-MHz XeonDual64M/1GThreeSix PCI, one PCI/ISA$2,799 up
ALR 8200r500-MHzDual64M/1GSixSix PCI, one ISA, one PCI/ISA$2,699 to $3,744
ALR 9200r500-MHz XeonQuad128M/4GSixSix PCI, one PCI/ISA$6,099 to $7,144

VendorProductPentium III processorsBoard designMemory (standard/ maximum)Hot-swap drive baysExpansion slotsPrice
Hewlett-Packard Co.
Palo Alto, Calif.
NetServer LC 2000/2000r733-MHzDual128M/4GSixSix PCI$3,789 up
NetServer LH 3000/3000r733-MHzDual128M/4G12Eight PCI$4,619 up
NetServer LH 3 & 3r600-MHzDual128M/1G12Eight PCI, one PCI/ISA$4,379 up
NetServer LH 4 & 4r550-MHz XeonQuad256M/4G12Eight PCI, one PCI/ISA$8,559 up
NetServer LXr 8000550-MHz XeonQuad256M/8G12Nine PCI, one PCI/ISA$15,070 up
NetServer LXr 8500550-MHz XeonEight-way256M/8G12Nine PCI, one PCI/ISA$20,660 UP
IBM Corp.
Armonk, N.Y.
Netfinity 3500 M10 Part No.600-MHzDual128M/1GEightSix PCI/ISA$2,379 up
Netfinity 4000R Part No. 865222Y500-MHzDual1G/2GFourTwo PCI, one PCI/ISA$7,345 up
Netfinity 5000 Part No. 86598RY700-MHzDual128M/2GFiveFive PCI$3,589 up
Netfinity 5500 Part No. 86607SU550-MHzDual256M /1G10Seven PCI$4,865 up
Netfinity 5500M10 Part No. 86615RY550-MHzQuad256M/2G10Seven PCI$7,095 up
Netfinity 5500 M20 Part No. 86624RY550-MHz XeonQuad256KM/4G10Six PCI$9,889 up
Netfinity 5600 Part No. 86643RY667-MHzDual256M/4G10Five PCI$5,045 up
Netfinity 7000 M10 Part No. 86803SY550-MHz XeonQuad256M/8GSix12 PCI (hot-plug)$14,745 up
Netfinity 8500R Part No. 86816RY550-MHz XeonEight-way256M/16GTwo12 PCI (hot-plug)$20,409 up
Intergraph Federal Systems
Huntsville, Ala.
Zx1 Server700-MHzDual256M/1GThreeFour PCI, one PCI/ISA, one ISA, one AGP$4,712 up GSA
Zx10 Server750-MHzDual256M/8GThreeSix PCI, one AGP$3,194 up GSA
Ion Computer Systems Inc.
Hauppauge, N.Y.
CC440GX+ Server550-MHz XeonDual64M/1GSixSix PCI$3,475 up
AC450NX Server550-MHz XeonQuad128M/8GTwo10 PCI$12,910
Micron PC Inc.
Meridian, Idaho
NetFrame 5200550-MHz XeonDual128M/2GSixSix PCI, one ISA$5,199 up
NetFrame 6200550-MHz XeonQuad256M/4GSixSix PCI, one ISA$9,449 up
NetFrame 9200550-MHz XeonQuad256M/8GSixSix PCI, one ISA$13,999 up
NEC Computers Inc.
Sacramento, Calif.
Express5800 LS 2400550-MHzDual128M/1GFourThree PCI, one ISA$1,700 up GSA
Express5800 LS 120Ld533-MHzDual128M/2GFourThree PCI, one ISA$2,629 up GSA
Express5800 MC2400600-MHzDual256M/2GFourThree PCI, one ISA$4,464 up GSA
Express5800 120Mc2733-MHzDual256M/4GFourSix PCI, one PCI/ISA$4,920 up GSA
Express5800 HX 4600550-MHz XeonQuad256M/4GEight10 PCI (8 hot- plug), 1 PCI/ISA$11,396 up GSA
Express5800 MH4500550-MHz XeonQuad256M/4GSixSeven PCI, one ISA$6,828 up GSA
PC Club
City of Industry, Calif.
Enpower EN992-PO5500-MHzDual128M/1GFiveFive PCI, one ISA$2,199 up
Enpower EN992-X06550-MHz XeonDual128M/2GSixSix PCI, one ISA$4,299 up
Enpower EN993-X04550-MHz XeonQuad128M/4GSixSix PCI, one ISA$6,259 up
Hinckley, Ohio
Aerial Dual Xeon Superserver550-MHz XeonDual128M/2G12Six PCI, one ISA, one AGP, one PCI/ISA$8,129
Aerial Quad Xeon Superserver550-MHz XeonQuad512M/4G23Seven PCI, one ISA, one PCI/ISA$17,999
Polywell Computers Inc.
S. San Francisco, Calif.
PolyServer 450NX4550-MHz XeonQuad128M/4GNineSeven PCI, one PCI/ISA$9,995 up
PolyServer 450NX9500-MHz XeonQuad128M/4GFourSeven PCI, one PCI/ISA$9,995 up

VendorProductPentium III processorsBoard designMemory (standard/ maximum)Hot-swap drive baysExpansion slotsPrice
Quantex Microsystems Inc.
Somerset, N.J.
QX5000750-MHzDual128M/1GFiveSix PCI, one ISA$2,599
QX6200550-MHz XeonDual128M/2GSixSix PCI, one ISA$4,099 up
QX6400550-MHz XeonQuad512M/8GSixSix PCI, one ISA$6,999 up
Mountain View, Calif.
1200700-MHzDual128M/2GFourTwo PCI$3,881 up
1400M550-MHz XeonQuad128M/4GSixSeven PCI$8,584 up
Tangent Computer Inc.
Burlingame, Calif.
ProServ 1200600-MHzDual128M/1GFiveFour PCI, two ISA$2,370 up
ProServ 1400600-MHzDual128M/2GFiveFour PCI, two ISA$2,841 up
ProServ 1600600-MHzDual128M/2GFiveFour PCI, two ISA$2,823 up
ProServ 2000550-MHz XeonDual128M/2GSixSix PCI, one ISA$6,714 up
ProServ 3000550-MHz XeonQuad256M/4GSixSix PCI, one ISA$9,420 up
ProServ 5000550-MHz XeonQuad256M/8GNineSix PCI $16,864 up
Toshiba America Information Systems Inc.
Irvine, Calif.
Magnia 3010600-MHzDual128M/1GFourThree PCI, one PCI/ISA, one ISA$2,375 up
Magnia 5010550-MHzDual128M/1G12Three PCI, one PCI/ISA, one ISA$4,503 up
Magnia 5100550-MHz XeonDual256M/2G12Six PCI, one ISA$6,441 up
Magnia 7010550-MHz XeonQuad256M/4G12Six PCI, one ISA$12,690 up
Unisys Corp.
McLean, Va.
Aquanta ES2043550-MHz XeonQuad256M/4GSixSix PCI, one PCI/ISA$4,800 up
Aquanta ES2085R550-MHz XeonEight-way512M/32GTwo10 PCI$19,000 up
Aquanta ES5043/ ES5043R550-MHz XeonQuad256M/4GSixSix PCI, one PCI/ISA$5,550 up
Aquanta ES5045/ ES5045R550-MHz XeonQuad256M/8G1210 PCI, one PCI/ISA$8,200 to $9,700
Aquanta ES5085R550-MHz XeonEight-way1G/32GTwo10 PCI$19,700 up


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