It's server chip season for Intel

Intel will start shipping new chips for mainstream and custom servers

When you post on Facebook or Twitter, watch a movie on Netflix, or play an online game, a server somewhere is powering it.

Most of those servers today have central processing units from Intel. The chip maker is now preparing to release a plethora of server chips in the next three months.

The highest-profile chips that will come later this quarter are the Xeon chips code-named Broadwell-EP for single- and dual-socket servers. The family of processors will be the latest in Intel's family of largest selling chips for high-volume servers.

No details have been yet shared, but the chips will be based on Intel's Broadwell architecture. Expect the chips to be faster and have features so data moves faster in and between servers in data centers. The chips could have more cores, DDR4 memory and faster Ethernet networking support. The predecessor Haswell-EP chips had up to 18 cores.

For servers with more than four sockets, Intel later this year will start selling the more powerful Broadwell-EX chips, which will have a larger cache.

Intel will also start shipping 16-core Xeon D chips, analyst firm Linley Group said in a research note sent this week. This chip will be targeted at servers, networking and storage arrays and appliances. The Xeon D chips are also based on the Broadwell architecture.

Companies increasingly want servers with components tuned to their application and data-center requirements. To that end, Intel tweaks controllers, logic and other components in a chip to a customer's requirements, which could help servers be more productive and power-efficient. Intel said its custom chips accounted for 40
percent of overall server processor shipments in the fourth quarter last year.

Intel also wants to create chips that can run specific applications really fast, but also be dynamic enough to meet changing application requirements in data centers. The chipmaker poured out $16.7 billion to buy Altera, which makes FPGAs (field programmable gate arrays). These can be reprogrammed for specific tasks and can be much faster than CPUs, but also more power hungry.

The first server chip that combines Intel CPU and Altera FPGA will ship this quarter to "leading-edge" cloud customers for testing, said Brian Krzanich, CEO of Intel, during an earnings call. The chip will be combined in one chipset, but as separate processing units. Ultimately the Altera logic and Intel CPU processing units will be combined, Krzanich said, without providing a timeline on when that may happen.

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