Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Haswell Microarchitecture Coming to Intel Xeon E5 Chips

Two weeks ago Intel began shipping Xeon E5 chips that were based on the Haswell microarchitecture to server makers with the chip planned to be in servers by this quarter. The Xeon E5 chips usually go into two-socket and four-socket servers and are the biggest-selling server products for Intel. The new chips, dubbed Grantley, are succeeding the former Romley chips based on the Ivy Bridge microarchitecture.

Lenovo has already announced plans to launch a brand new line of servers based on Grantley this quarter and server makers, including HP and Dell, have also started using Intel's server chips and could announce products in the near future. According to Intel CEO Brian Krzanich during an earnings call, "We think ... it's going to be a very powerful product."

The Grantley chips have actually already started shipping to cloud and high-performance computing customers that build their own computing gear according to Krzanich. Most of the chips developed ship out of the factory directly to server makers, who then test the chips, design servers and then make products commercially available.

The Xeon E5 chips account for nearly 75% of all of Intel's server chip shipments according to Dean McCarron, principal analyst for Mercury Research. The Romley chips are still out in the market, though Grantley will take over as customers begin to upgrade their servers. At the moment, the server business at Intel is booming, though Krzanich was aloof when asked about the expectations for the server chip.

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According to Krzanich, the data-center volumes are "lumpy" and Xeon E5 order sizes could vary as companies look to upgrade data centers. "They tend to come in big pieces," Krzanich stated. However, the chip will continue to drive Intel's data-center business in the long term, at least as far as Krzanich is concerned.

The Grantley chip will have DDR4 memory controllers along with memory DIMMs that are expected to be available from Micron, Kingston and others this quarter. In addition to that, these chips will have more processing cores than the previous models. Grantley could see some competition from Advanced Micro Devices' Opteron 4000 and 6000 x86 server chips. Intel has nearly 95% of the market share, which is even higher in the Xeon E5 segment according to McCarron. "There's really not a lot of competition for that particular server product," he added.

AMD is literally betting the entire future of its server business Arm processors, which could very well emerge as competition to Intel's x86 server chips. Intel has also noted that it would be willing to customize chips with specific features though the majority of Grantley chips will not be custom McCarron added. Moreover, Intel also sells Xeon E3 chips for single-socket servers and E7 chips for servers with four or more sockets so I think it's pretty safe to say that Intel has a lockdown on this market for the time being.

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