Intel touts low power Pentium chips for microservers

November 25, 2011 // By Sylvie Barak
While Xeon chips are taking the high-end server market by storm, Intel has found a use for its historic Pentium processor in lower-end servers.

The firm has even started shipping a new version of the Pentium chip based on the Intel's Sandy Bridge architecture at 32-nm --the dual-core 350-- reported to have a clock speed of 1.2GHz and 3MB of cache.

As is customary with server chips, the 350 has no integrated graphics component, but it does have an astoundingly low thermal design power (TDP) of just 15W, far lower than any other Intel chip apart from those on the Atom architecture.

Pentium’s low-power renders it most useful for use in what Intel is terming “microservers” –lower-end boxes targeted at small/medium businesses which need a server but do not need a full-scale rack or tower server or even the likes of Facebook which needs low-power units for its cloud.

The market is currently dominated by the firm’s Xeon E3 chips, but Atom has already been slated for use in the next generation of microservers, to keep power usage low and with ARM partners beginning to make moves into low-powered server territory, Intel knows it must continue driving power down.

Microservers are expected to make up about 10 percent of the overall server market in four years’ time, representing about $6-9 billion of the total addressable market, which has prompted the likes of Marvell and Calxeda to try their luck with sub 10 W ARM chip offerings.

While at a significant power advantage, however, ARM partners are at a software disadvantage compared with Intel’s x86 chips, which can run a variety of programs and applications ARM’s architecture does not yet support.

The Pentium family, which ranks just one level above Intel’s lowest-end Celeron series, has been synonymous with the firm since 1993, when it was the lead chip for most of Intel’s PC offerings. It had also been used in servers in the past, in the form of the Pentium III and Pentium II Xeon.

No pricing details have been disclosed about the new Pentium