Apple could build Penryn into Xserve

Apple could first plug Penryn processors into its Xserve line of Unix-based servers

While Apple is tight-lipped about the introduction of new Mac systems with Intel's latest Penryn processors, analysts said the company's Unix-based Xserve servers could be the first to include the power-efficient Penryn chips.

Rumors predict Apple's Mac Pro workstations being the first Mac system to include Penryn processors, though it makes sense for Apple to first plug Penryn chips into Xserve machines to start upgrading its product portfolio from the top, analysts said.

The first Penryn chips, like the Xeon 5400, are the upper echelon of chips designed to first appear in servers and high-end desktops, not home PCs, an analyst with NPD Group, Samir Bhavnani, said. The first introductions could be Xserves and Mac Pro systems, then other Mac desktops and laptops as Intel releases chips for those systems, Bhavnani said.

Apple needs something to replace the rusting Xserve machines, and it would make sense for Apple to release a new server by year's end to immediately upgrade its product portfolio, analysts said.

"It's a no-brainer," CEO of analyst firm VLSI Research, Dan Hutcheson, said. "You'd want it in the stores before Christmas," he added. Intel has been manufacturing Penryn chips for some time and has built up a large inventory, so it is feasible that Apple will launch high-end Mac Pro desktops too, Hutcheson said.

Founder and principal of Mercury Research, Dean McCarron, agreed that Apple should launch workstations in time for holiday shopping. However, most manufacturers have already locked up product announcements as part of the system refresh cycle for the shopping season, so it's likely Apple will launch the products early next year, McCarron said.

Macworld, to be held Jan. 14 to Jan. 18 in San Francisco, is a big product showcase for Apple, and most likely the first Penryn-based Apple server and workstations and will be announced there, analysts said.

"Some of the rumors have been 'Apple's been buying [Intel chips] up.' It's not like Apple will have it on their systems exclusively," Bhavnani said. Hewlett-Packard and Lenovo have already announced workstations carrying Intel's new Xeon 5400 processor based on the 45-nanometre Penryn architecture. Apple won't rush to make a major announcement until Macworld, though it could announce a minor laptop or desktop refresh, Bhavnani said.

Intel is working on Penryn products with around 40 system vendors, including Apple, director for Intel's digital enterprise group operations, Stephen Smith, said. Intel cannot comment on Apple product releases, Smith said.

When Apple does put Penryn chips on Mac OS systems, users will be thrilled by the chip's improved graphics performance, Bhavnani said. The new chip's focus is high-definition, and Intel focused on improving video compression capabilities on the chips, which could improve a Mac's graphics capabilities, Bhavnani said.

"Because of the reputation Apple has for graphics and video, that reputation will be enhanced by being one of the first to have Penryn chips," Bhavnani said.

The new chips will also be more power efficient and provide better overall system performance, Bhavnani said.

Apple does not comment on speculation, a company spokeswoman said.

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