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Intel Partners See 'Easy' Upgrade Path With Xeon 5600 Chips

Westmere-class six-core server chips promise a big performance boost over last year's Nehalem-generation Xeons with a simple swap into a common processor socket.

server workstation following Tuesday's launch

"It's a complete drop in to the existing platforms, which is great," said Todd Swank, director of marketing at Burnsville, Minn.-based system builder Nor-Tech. "With just a BIOS upgrade needed, it makes it easy to upgrade our current Intel server offerings."

Swank, like many Intel partners in attendance at this week's Intel Solutions Summit (ISS) in Las Vegas, said a simple swap-out of last year's quad-core Xeon 5500 series chips for a new six-core Xeon 5600 series part would deliver "an automatic 30 percent increase in performance."

The new Xeons, formerly code-named Gulftown, feature Santa Clara, Calif.-based Intel's 32-nanometer process technology, also known as Westmere, resulting in energy efficiency gains compared to the 45nm Xeon 5500 series processors launched last March. While the Xeon 5600 series represents a die shrink, or "tick" in Intel's "tick-tock" product development cadence, and not a major microarchitecture advance, or "tock," Intel has added some new instructions to the Gulftown chips to boost features like security and virtualization.

Prior to Tuesday's official release of the Gulftown chips, Intel said it had already shipped more than 100,000 Xeon 5600 series processors. Some of those found their way into rack-mount servers, high-performance computing (HPC) systems, storage appliances and high-end GPU workstations built by AMAX Information Technologies, according to James Huang, product marketing manager at the Fremont, Calif.-based system builder.

"We've received quite a few pre-orders [for Xeon 5600 series-based systems] and now that the official release is here, we're launching these products simultaneously in the U.S. and China," Huang said.

AMAX, a leading ODM in Nvidia's Tesla Preferred Partner program, will also be launching "a new generation of Fermi-based Tesla clusters, workstations and servers with the Westmere processors inside," he said, referring to a next-generation GPU architecture, code-named Fermi, expected to be released by Nvidia in April.

AMAX president Jean Shih said the Xeon 5600 series offered customers a range of system options, from "maximum computing power" at the top of the processor stack, to "systems capable of low voltage and multi-core computing," including one 60-watt six-core part, the Xeon L5640.

Michael Faye, vice president of sales and marketing at Sunnyvale, Calif.-based Colfax International called the Westmere upgrade "real smooth sailing."

"I think it's going to be a real easy transition. The processors are going to go into socket 1366. My only concern is with a couple of the 130-watt CPUs, on the thermals, but as long as the boards support it, the upgrade should be real smooth-sailing," Faye said.

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