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Intel Pentium II Xeon CPU

July 16, 1998
Web posted at: 9:00 AM EDT

by Andre Kvitka

Two weeks ago Intel announced its Pentium II Xeon processor, which represents the company's highest-powered processor to date. With this, Intel adds a CPU for mid-to-high-level servers and workstations -- joining the lineup of Mobile Pentium II for notebooks, Celeron for basic PCs, and Pentium II for entry-level servers, workstations, and high-performance PCs.

The Pentium II Xeon processor features a 0.25-micron P6 microarchitecture core with Dynamic Execution operating at 400 MHz; 512KB and 1MB of Level 2 cache options; Extended Server Memory Architecture, which allows more than 4GB of memory in servers; addressable memory support as large as 64GB; and new system management features via the System Management bus. It also features a Dual Independent Bus, which has a 400-MHz Level 2 cache bus, operating at the same speed as the processor core, and 100-MHz transactional System Bus with 100-MHz synchronous DRAM and EDO RAM.

All this mumbo-jumbo means that you will not need a Pentium II Xeon system unless your company wants to stick with Intel processors and runs expensive, high-end digital-media creation software such as Softimage or 3D Studio Max, as well as mechanical and electrical CAD, software engineering, financial analysis, and geographical information systems applications.

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To judge the Xeon chip's performance, I tested two beta Pentium II Xeon workstations: the Dell Precision Workstation 610 and Hewlett-Packard's HP Kayak XU Workstation.

The Dell Precision Workstation 610 was configured with a single Pentium II Xeon processor with 512KB ECC Level 2 cache, a 440GX chip set, 128MB of error-correcting code (ECC) 100-MHz synchronous DRAM (SDRAM), a Diamond 8MB Permidia 2 Accelerated Graphics Port (AGP) video card, and two 9GB 10,000-rpm Ultra2 Wide SCSI drives in a RAID configuration. The Precision 610 also hosts a number of manageability features, such as Desktop Management Interface, Version 2.0, remote "push" BIOS flash, Remote Boot order select, DIMM and environmental alerts, and property ownership tags.

I looked at the basic configuration, which is reflected in the $5,556 price tag. Configurations sporting two Xeon processors, 1MB of Level 2 cache, and more memory, all of which will certainly cost more, though they should still be competitive in price and performance when compared to Sun and Compaq/Digital boxes.

The HP Kayak XU Workstation was configured with two Pentium II Xeon processors with 512KB ECC Level 2 cache (per each processor), a 440GX chip set, 128MB of ECC 100-MHz SDRAM, a 3D ELSA GLoria Synergy video card with an 8MB Permidia 2 AGP video card, and two 4.5GB 10,000-rpm Ultra2 Wide SCSI drives in a RAID configuration. The HP Kayak XU has similar manageability features to Dell's Precision, but there is one item that differentiates Kayak. I really liked its LED display on the front panel. In combination with the dedicated chip, this display monitors and shows system information and diagnostics results.

To quickly test performance I ran a suite of mainstream graphics and 3-D applications and found that the results matched my expectations. The Dell Precision 610 with a single 400-MHz Xeon CPU outperformed a similarly configured 400-MHz Pentium II by 5 percent, and surpassed a similarly configured 333-MHz Pentium II by 22 percent. The HP Kayak XU, configured with two 400-MHz Xeon CPUs, outperformed a similarly-configured 400-MHz Pentium II by 9 percent and a similarly-configured 333-MHz Pentium II by 25 percent.

Comparing the two Xeon units, I found that the two 400-MHz Xeon processors were faster than one by 4 percent.

To really see the benefits of the Xeon systems for traditional Unix workstation applications, you will need to compare the two platforms with the same type of high-end software. For now, it looks as though Intel has provided a competitive platform that is likely to attract even more workstation users to its hardware.

Andre Kvitka is a technology analyst at the InfoWorld Test Center who specializes in client hardware.
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