Intel Pentium II Xeon CPU
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.
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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