Intel's Pine Trail and Nehalem-EX Platform Updates


8-Core Xeon MP Processors by 2010!

8-Core Xeon MP Processors by 2010!

Yes, you've read the title right. Next year this time, you'll be seeing high-end Xeon servers sporting 8-core processors. In fact, Intel says it will have it ready by the second-half of this year for production.

Currently this space is being served by the Xeon MP processors (the Xeon 7300 and 7400 series) which are still using the Core microarchitecture. Of note is the high-end Xeon 7400 series which is the first 6-core processor and was available in the later half of 2008. Just a couple of months ago, Intel updated their dual-processor (DP) platforms with the Nehalem-EP architecture. This brought the merits of the Core i7 to the server market in the form of the Xeon 5500 series processors. Their biggest difference from the consumer model is the presence of dual QPI links versus one link, which allows both processors to intercommunicate and access memory through any processor without an external chipset.

Now Intel is ramping up the testing, validation and is on track for mass production of the Nehalem-EX platform (for four-way processing or greater) late this year. This will finally bring the Nehalem architecture to the server space in full swing. The processor is codenamed Beckton and is the most crucial component of the new Nehalem-EX platform. It offers several improvements over the existing Nehalem architecture and the Xeon 7400 series (Dunnington core) that we're familiar with.

The Beckton processor (or also otherwise referred to as the Nehalem-EX processor) will sport up to eight processing cores and support HyperThreading which would give it up to 16 threads processing capability. Consider the typical four-way multi-processor (MP) platform and you have 32 cores and up to 64 threads of crunching power! Mind boggling indeed. To support this dense processing, each Beckton processor will feature 24MB of L3 shared cache and four QPI links for glue-less processing.

While Intel can't yet share the processing frequency range for these processors, they still boast of Intel Turbo Boost for dynamic ramping of clock speeds if certain processor cores are less utilized. Processing prowess isn't the only aspect that's been improved by a great degree. The memory addressing capability per CPU has been boosted as well with four DDR3 memory channels per CPU on this MP platform (versus three channels per CPU on the DP and UP platforms). Furthermore, the processor can now address four DIMMs per channel and that brings a grand total of 16 DIMMs per CPU socket or 64 DIMMs per quad-socket system. Overall just going by the specs, this gives the Nehalem-EX platform twice the memory addressability and thread crunching capability over the current Xeon 7400 series servers.

At this point of time, Intel isn't able to disclose the memory speeds supported on the Nehalem-EX platform, but what they did share was that any standard DDR3 memory is supported - regardless whether it's registered or non-registered and if it has ECC or not. We're guessing that the Intel scalable memory buffer seated between the CPU and the memory is the real reason for the wide variety of possible configurations and even allows for standard consumer DDR3 memory. Plus it also gives rise to tackle more DIMMs per channel.

The Nehalem-EX platform also improves upon the existing RAS (reliability, availability and serviceability) features on the current Xeon MP platform with Machine Check Abort (MCA) Recovery. This is the first time a Xeon machine has this feature to help detect and recover from critical hardware-level errors from the CPU, memory or I/O at the platform level without intervention from the operating system. If the issue is more critical or complicated, the platform will work with the OS to help recover from the error.

The MCA Recovery feature on Nehalem-EX is somewhat similar to that on the Itanium. So how does it stand up to the mission-critical deployment ready Itanium processor? The Itaniums have an even more robust and more comprehensive RAS and error recovery feature set. As such, only some of the more noteworthy RAS features are being channeled into the Xeon family as of now.

That wraps up the key features of the Nehalem-EX server update at this point of time. You can expect more updates late this year when Intel goes into production of these new high-end Beckton processors. We'll leave you with a parting shot of how an 8-way Nehalem-EX platform capable of crunching 128 threads in parallel would look like with OEM node controllers. Don't be surprised, but this amount of power might be under your PC's hood less than a decade away at the speed of innovation these days.