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Intel’s touting its latest Nehalem EP-based quad-core processors as the
biggest platform advancement in 10 years, aiming to provide
organizations with enhanced virtualization and cloud computing
capabilities.

Analysts say virtualization and cloud computing are major drivers
for future server demand, and Gartner predicts virtualization will be
the top technology initiative customers undertake this year.

>> READ: Nehalem Could Hurt Server Sales

To that end, Intel’s also introduced the Nehalem EP platform, which
includes the chip set that contains the new 82599 10 Gigabit Ethernet
Controller. The new technology is geared specifically at virtualization
environments and will greatly improve network performance, according to
Intel.

The processors introduced Monday include 14 Xeon 5500 series chips,
which are for two-socket servers; and three Xeon 3500 series CPUs for
single-socket servers and workstations. Prices in quantities of 1,000
range from $188 to $1,600 each for the 5500 series, and $284 to $999
for the 3500 series.

For higher-end servers, Intel also said it has plans to introduce a
six-core Nehalem processor and an eight-core design, called Nehalem EX,
by the end of the year.

Intel claims a Xeon 5500-based server provides nine times the
performance of a single-socket server running the previous-generation
Xeon processor. The power boost means as many as 21 software servers
can be consolidated from older systems into a single Nehalem EP-based
server, reducing power consumption and space in a data center.
Organizations that use the new products can expect to see a return on
their investment within eight months.

Intel believes Nehalem EP, officially called the Xeon 3500 and 5500
series, will offer increased performance and address weaknesses that
have allowed competitor Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) to gain market
share and, in some ways, bypass Intel technologically.

By introducing an integrated memory controller (IMC) onto the
processor, Intel has eliminated the front-side bus that hampered
performance of Intel’s previous platform. AMD has used IMC technology
in its Opteron processors since 2003, analysts say.

While Nehalem EP gives Intel a performance lead over AMD, the gain
is only expected to last for six months or so, analysts say, as AMD is
sure to catch up with its future products.

Along with the IMC, Intel includes hyper-threading technology along
with what the company calls "turbo mode," or firmware that tailors
multicore processors to the workload. The technology can ramp up
individual cores when needed while shutting down others to reduce power
consumption.

Dell, Hewlett-Packard and IBM already have more than 230 products in
the works powered by the new Xeon processors, Intel says.