Intel to ship built-to-order Xeon D chips in second half

Intel will start offering custom chips based on the Xeon D starting in the second half of this year, making it easier to tailor servers to process specific workloads.

Intel this week announced Xeon D chips for servers, storage and networking, but the four- and eight-core chips have a fixed set of components and features. The built-to-order chips later this year will be tailored to customer specifications, and to needs in storage, networking and web serving.

For example, Intel will be able to customize chips to include components such as FPGAs (field-programmable gate arrays), which are reprogrammable chips used for specific tasks. For example, Microsoft uses FPGAs in servers to boost the accuracy of search results in Bing. Bringing FPGAs inside Xeon D could make the chip more versatile.

“The Xeon D product family will offer many options for customization,” said Lisa Spelman, director of data center product marketing at Intel, in an email.

Intel already provides custom server chips to large customers like Facebook and eBay, which are building mega data centers to handle their sites’ and services’ growing load of web transactions. Many of the chip tweaks are minor, based on frequency, power draw and I/O capabilities. Customizing chips helps squeeze more power efficiency and performance from servers in data centers.

The Xeon-D is Intel’s first “system-on-chip” server chip, meaning there’s a wider array of components packaged inside a chipset alongside the CPU. Some of those components are related to storage and networking, but there’s a lot more flexibility to replace parts and customize. For example, incorporating a power hungry FPGA may result in the removal of some components to keep the power draw of Xeon D within reasonable limits.

Xeon D chips are meant for dense servers, but may also go into robots, which need more processing muscle for industrial tasks such as manufacturing and quality control. Another target for the server chip is Internet of Things systems, which must process large amounts of data from sensors and mobile devices.

Xeon D is Intel’s first server chip made using the Broadwell microarchitecture, which is already being used in PC chips.

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