updated 05:15 pm EST, Tue November 15, 2011
Intel shows Xeon E5 in supercomputer tech first
Intel chose the SC11 conference for an unusual preview of its next-generation mid-range workstation and server chip, the Xeon E5. The pre-release chip is now running ten of the supercomputers in the Top500 list and is estimated to be about 2.1 times more pure performance, and 70 percent in high demand workloads, than the Xeon 5600 it replaces. It will also be the first Xeon to support PCI Express 3.0, which doubles the bandwidth and is useful for very high bandwidth connections to the Internet, cluster computers, and high-demand local peripherals like video cards.
Although the chips were already in the hands of supercomputer builders, Intel confirmed talk and said that "broad availability" was due in the first half of 2012, referencing the time when workstations and smaller-scale servers would arrive.
Also on tap was example of a working Knights Corner chip. The 50-plus cores could successfully hit a record of over one teraflop for a single chip. Intel also said the finished version would be built using the same 22 nanometer, 3D transistor technology as its upcoming Ivy Bridge platform and wouldn't need special treatment to work with regular apps.
Intel hasn't said when Knights Corner will ship, although 22 nanometer points to a launch within 2012.
The arrival of the Xeon E5 could end a drought for workstation processors. Apple's Mac Pro, and most other Xeon-based workstations, have had to use chips that in some cases haven't been updated since 2010. In part through Intel's timing, rumors have surfaced that Apple might axe the Mac Pro and focus all its attention on home PCs like the iMac.