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Friday, July 30, 2004
Intel chip glitch hobbles server advance


A glitch in an Intel chip has hampered the launch of an important communication technology arriving Monday with a new generation of servers, sources familiar with the situation said.

Intel and server partners plan to launch the "Nocona" version of the Xeon processor for dual-processor servers on Monday, but a supporting chip called "Lindenhurst" that handles input-output chores has a flaw that in rare circumstances can cripple the computer, sources said. The problem means Intel will recommend against using adapter cards that plug into servers with the new PCI Express communications technology.

The problem is expected to be fixed in an updated version of Lindenhurst arriving in the fourth quarter of 2004, sources said. Meanwhile, customers thinking of buying the new servers--the first with Intel chips that support 64-bit extensions--will be able to use the older PCI-X input-output slots or use adapters that have been certified not to be affected by the glitch.

Intel declined to comment on unannounced products or the Lindenhurst glitch. However, a source familiar with the company's plans said Intel expects to publish the problem in an erratum notice Monday.

The problem is the latest black eye for the chipmaker. Thursday, Intel confirmed its flagship 3.6GHz Pentium 4 processors are in short supply and its 4GHz sequel won't arrive in 2004 as earlier planned.

And earlier this year, Intel delayed its "Dothan" chip for mobile computers and, later, the Alviso chipset. Intel also has to recall some Grantsdale chipsets for desktop computers with multimedia capabilities.

In a blunt memo last week, Intel Chief Executive Craig Barrett called for changes to address the company's delays and to improve performance.

Dual-processor servers have been a major success in Intel's push to expand beyond its desktop computer roots. At the same time that Intel-based servers have grown more powerful and have shouldered more important work, the company has grown more conservative with testing and qualification.

Intel launched workstations based on Nocona versions of Xeon in June.

The 64-bit extensions arriving in Nocona provide easier access to more than 4GB of memory and follow in the footsteps of technology already in Opteron server chips from Intel rival Advanced Micro Devices. Although Linux from Red Hat and SuSE support the extensions, Microsoft has delayed Windows support until the first half of 2005.

PCI Express is a communication technology that can be used to plug cards for networking, storage or graphics into a computer. The technology is taking over from the 12-year-old PCI standard.

PCI Express cards aren't widely available yet, but they are expected to gradually replace traditional cards based on traditional PCI and its faster sequel, PCI-X. PCI Express ultimately offers lower costs, higher speeds, and new features such as cable connections outside a computer chassis or externally accessible plug-in ports.

The problem in the Lindenhurst chipset, which one source said affects a component called the memory controller hub, can cause the input-output system to become unresponsive. It affects only PCI Express plug-in cards, not PCI Express technology that's built directly into a server's motherboard.

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