When Intel first released their Xeon branded processor in May of 2001 we were impressed with its performance, but the crown was quickly taken away by AMD with their Athlon MP that followed one month later.

The original Xeon offered higher performance than its predecessor, the Pentium III Xeon, mostly because of its high bandwidth FSB and memory bus, unfortunately the Xeon suffered from the same drawbacks as the original Pentium 4. Remember back to our review of the first Pentium 4, the performance of the NetBurst based CPU was nothing to cheer about - in many cases it was no faster than the Pentium III. The Xeon launched at 1.7GHz, faster than the first Pentium 4 but the architecture was identical its desktop counterpart. Fortunately, because of the nature of enterprise applications, the Xeon's performance was made respectable thanks to the aforementioned bandwidth advantages over the Pentium III.

The Athlon MP, on the other hand, came out of the gates strong; initially offering a huge advantage, at considerably lower cost, than Intel's Xeon. The benefits of higher IPC execution, larger on-die caches, and a point-to-point bus protocol gave AMD a clear advantage over Intel in entry-level dual processor systems. However, just as was the case in the desktop world, over time Intel began to gain momentum and made the Xeon infinitely more competitive.

Things have changed considerably since the release of the original Xeon last year; for starters, the Xeon DP (Dual Processor version) now ships with twice as much L2 cache, courtesy of Intel's 0.13-micron manufacturing process. Other than a 512KB L2 cache, the 0.13-micron manufacturing process also gave Intel the ability to ramp clock speeds as high as 2.80GHz. The Xeon still trails the desktop Pentium 4 in clock speed, but that's mainly because of the more rigorous validation that all enterprise class products must go through. The higher clock speeds and larger L2 cache worked together with Hyper-Threading to close the gap in performance between the Xeon and the Athlon MP.

Alongside the Xeon DP, Intel also introduced the Xeon MP - capable of 4-way operation. The Xeon MP was introduced on a more mature 0.18-micron process but featured up to a 2MB on-die L3 cache in addition to the 256KB on-die L2 cache. The massive on-die caches approximately doubled the transistor count of the Xeon and thus reduced yields on the CPUs. In order to compensate, Intel drastically reduced the clock speeds of these CPUs - introduced at 1.6GHz while the Xeon DP approached 2.8GHz.

Earlier this month Intel transitioned their Xeon MP processors to the now mature 0.13-micron process, outfitting them with a 512KB L2 cache and a 2MB on-die L3 cache. The 108 million transistor processors are now available at speeds up to 2.0GHz, still lower than the Xeon DP parts but as you're definitely familiar with - clock speed isn't everything.

Today Intel is continuing to turn up the heat with new chipsets and new CPUs for their enterprise and workstation markets. The Xeon DP finally gets a 533MHz FSB and while E7205 (Granite Bay) offers dual channel DDR for Pentium 4s, Intel brings the E7505 (Placer) to the Xeon for some dual processor dual channel DDR action.

Because of the sheer number of products Intel is introducing and the multiple target markets we're splitting our coverage of the Xeon processors into three parts. This first part will focus on performance in the enterprise market, more specifically on database server applications. The second part will be posted after Comdex and will focus on web server performance. Finally, part three will look at the workstation performance of these processors and platforms.

So without further ado let's dive right into the new CPUs...

Xeon DP - Finally with a 533MHz FSB
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