Core wars redux: Intel to ship 15-core chip

Intel's 15-core server chip code-named Ivytown will be targeted at high-end servers

The core wars between x86 chip makers hit a lull a couple of years ago as processors were deemed to deliver enough performance, but Intel's plans to release a 15-core processor could change that.

Intel confirmed Thursday that it will release a 15-core server chip code-named Ivytown, which will be based on the Ivy Bridge architecture. Intel until now had topped off at 12 cores with the Xeon E5 v2 chips that shipped in the third quarter of this year.

The 15-core chip is destined for high-end servers. It will likely go into four- to eight-socket servers, which typically handle high-end computing for databases and enterprise resource planning systems.

Adding CPU cores is a power-efficient way to increase processing power. Chip makers started adding cores as an alternative to cranking up the clock speed of CPUs, which caused chips to draw more power.

One of the first multicore chips was released by IBM in 2001 and based on the Power4 architecture, but adding cores caught on when Advanced Micro Devices showed the first dual-core x86 chip in 2004.

The 15-core chip brings Intel close to AMD, which has plugged 16 cores into its latest Opteron 6300 chips. AMD shipped its first 16-core Opteron chips code-named Interlagos in 2011 and has not added cores to chips since. AMD next year plans to release new x86 server chips that will also have up to 16 cores.

Intel's Ivytown is already being manufactured using the 22-nanometer process, but a company spokesman did not provide a specific release date. It will be part of a Xeon E7-v2 server chip line, which is code-named Ivy Bridge-EX.

The server market is the new battleground as applications demand more computing power and multicore programming challenges are overcome, said Dean McCarron, principal analyst at Mercury Research.

Dual-core chips dominate laptops, while desktops are largely at quad-core. But faster processors are needed in servers handling tasks ranging from basic cloud transactions to supercomputing, which is why more cores are being added to chips, McCarron said.

The 15-core chip will provide incremental performance benefits to the 12-core Intel chip, McCarron said.

Many new supercomputers are also equipped with co-processors -- also called accelerators -- like graphics processors that aid CPUs to speed up computing. Nvidia in November released the Tesla K40 graphics chip, which has 2,880 processing cores. Intel in 2015 plans to release a new Xeon Phi chip, Knights Corner, which could have in excess of 60 cores and also be a primary CPU. However, unlike Xeon server CPUs, the Phi chips could draw more power and be inefficient in processing basic OS tasks and scheduling.

The challenge of writing applications to work with multicore chips is less of a challenge now, with programs and server chips designed to handle multiple threads, McCarron said.

Agam Shah covers PCs, tablets, servers, chips and semiconductors for IDG News Service. Follow Agam on Twitter at @agamsh. Agam's e-mail address is agam_shah@idg.com

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Agam Shah

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