Intel has released a major update to their Xeon family of CPUs and Chipsets. At the peak of the performance spectrum, the 5400 Harpertown series of Quad-Core Xeons will replace the previous 5300 Clovertown series released last November. In the middle level, 5200 Wolfdale series of Dual-Core Xeons will replace the 5100 Woodcrest line of Dual-Core Xeons that were released back in June of 2006. To accompany these new CPUs, Intel has also announced a new series of chipsets. The 5400 Stoakley chipset will power the highest end systems, with the 5100 CranberryLake chipset being a more economical option. A single socket CPU for ultra high end consumer systems was also released, the QX9650 Core2 Extreme.
The biggest change in the new generation, is that these chips are based on Intel’s new 45nm process. This will allow them to run much more efficiently, requiring less power, and generating less heat. There are also some marginal increases in maximum clock speed, but it is rumored that the new process has much more headroom for future speed increases. The primary reason I can imagine why Intel might be waiting to push the speeds higher, is that the competition from AMD doesn’t require them to increase speeds to stay ahead, and they are holding that capability in reserve, in the event that AMD does release something powerful, so that they can respond quickly with a faster product. Regardless of how far Intel is currently pushing the envelope, they currently provide the most powerful processors for most applications and uses. The new release bumps the top models from the X5365’s 3.0Ghz to the new X5482’s 3.2Ghz (or 3.4Ghz for a Dual Core X5272). The highest end chips also have a FSB increase from 1333Mhz to 1600Mhz (333Mhz to 400Mhz if you don’t count Intel’s Quad Buffering marketing terms).
The new line of CPUs are cheaper than the older generation at equivalent speeds, which is always an advantage for end user. Having new products on the market should also bring down the prices on the older generation of CPUs, which will hopefully lead to some bargains in the near future. The new processors are pin compatible with the previous three generations of Xeons, all using the LGA771 socket, so it should be possible to upgrade existing Xeon workstations and servers with the new chips, but the FSB will be limited to 1333Mhz. Any 5000 series Xeon system or above should be compatible with some of the new chips. There are also some new single socket CPUs that use the more common LGA775 socket. Many more LGA775 compatible 45nm varients will be released early next year under the “Core2” label.As of today, it is very difficult to find any way to actually purchase these new units, as both HP and Dell have not begun to include them as options on their current systems. HP has announced that it will soon be replacing their XW8400 series workstations with the XW8600 series, which will bring all of the advantages of the new CPUs and chipsets to their line. I expect a similar announcement from Dell, replacing their current Precision 490 and 690 lines in the near future. The new XW8600 will be based on the 5400 chipset, and will offer 2 PCIe x16 slots for dual graphics, as well as an x8 and dual x4 PCIe slots, and an older PCI-X slot for compatibility with older components. It currently lists a maximum FSB of 1333Mhz, but I expect that to be upped to 1600Mhz as the CPUs that support that speed become available. RAM will still be based on fully buffered DDR2 technology at 667Mhz, with up to 128GBin 16 DIMM slots, but still limited to 4GB for 32bit work.
Currently, information on HP’s site implies that the new systems will not be compatible with XP, and only with Vista, but I cannot confirm that. I have seen it implied elsewhere that Intel’s new chipset will have Windows XP support. Windows XP still offers many advantages, especially when viewed in light of current post-production software options, so that is an important question that remains unanswered.