Intel CEO puts his chips on the table

SAN FRANCISCO – Intel Corp. wants a bigger share of the server market, but in the high end CEO Craig Barrett admitted the chipmaker will face a new rival besides Sun Microsystems and IBM: itself.

At the Intel Developer Forum (IDF)

2002, Intel launched an improved Xeon processor, formerly code-named Prestonia, for servers and the accompanying E7500 chipset. The company said the platform would offer an 80 per cent performance boost for two-way systems and will be available at frequencies of up to 2.2 GHz.

However, Barrett said IDF is also an opportunity to show off the next generation of its Itanium processor, code-named McKinley. “”There will be more McKinleys than we’ve ever shown before,”” he told a small group of international journalists minutes before his opening keynote to about 4,000 engineers and developers.

Intel wants to push the 64-bit chip into the high end of the server market dominated by Sun’s Sparc chips and IBM’s Power chip. Yet analysts have suggested that Xeon, with enhanced features and a lower cost, may take some of the spotlight away from McKinley.

“”I expect to see competition between 32-bit and 64-bit,”” Barrett said, adding that the Itanium chip is already in production by 20 OEMs. “”You’ll still see high-performance 32-bit capability at the entry level of the data center.””

Barrett said Intel would continue to focus its business around four platforms, including the IA-32 for desktops, the IA-64 for large servers, PCA for handhelds and network processors. All of these areas will grow, he said, but the recession and after-effects of failed dot-com companies have stunted their development in the short term. The telecommunications industry, where Intel wants firms to turn to its third-party chips, will recover more slowly than the computing market, which has stabilized.

Barrett sounded optimistic about the prospects for supercomputing based on a number of standard building blocks that can be clustered or placed in grids. Grid computing, which has been championed by IBM and Platform Computing, no different from peer-to-peer workstation environments that have been running in Intel’s labs for years, he said.

While IDF exists primarily as a showcase for Intel’s most recent products, Barrett spent some time reflecting on the long-term future of core technologies, including the transistor. “”The replacement technology for the transistor may already be invented,”” he said, ticking off quantum dots, nanotechnology and organically-grown components as possibilities. “”But it will not be commercially available until the transistor runs out of gas. That won’t be for another 10 to 15 years.””

Even then, Barrett added, the industry may not experience the sort of process overhaul some experts have suggested. “”There will still be the same complexity of manufacturing and bringing it to market,”” he said. Engineers would have to make sure a quantum dot, for example, could be printed to very fine dimensions, just like transistors. “”I expect the same sort of equipment will still probably be used for the next generation of technology.””

Intel continues to cooperate with Microsoft on a number of fronts, but Barrett said the chipmaker supports the Linux market as long as customers demand it. The open source OS is competitive in the high end and in embedded markets, he said, and continues to offer some cost and reliability benefits. “”I have to say, though, that most of our high-end design wins are on Windows,”” he said.

Advanced Micro Devices is also holding a technology conference this week near its headquarters in Sunnyvale, Calif., but Barrett was dismissive of the other chipmaker, particularly the closure of some of its production facilities last year. “”AMD has had the same strategy for the last 25 years, which is to compete with us,”” he said. “”The only thing that’s changed is that AMD used to believe that real men have (their own) fabs . . . apparently they don’t believe that anymore.””

Barrett and other Intel executives also spent Monday demonstrating products based on InfiBand fabric connectivity and a single-chip series of gigabit Ethernet processors for high-density servers. IDF 2002 runs through Thursday.

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