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Intel announces low-power Xeon E3 series

Chip giant Intel is clearly getting rattled by the advances made by British semiconductor design house ARM in the server market, announcing a new range of low-power server chips alongside a roadmap that promises sub-10W processors by 2012.

Announced today, the company's Xeon E3 range promises a thermal design power - a measurement of the maximum power draw of a processor, and by extension its heat output under load - of between 20W and 45W. This compares favourably with the company's existing Xeon L range of lower-power chips, which are typically between 50W and 95W TDP.

The announced range comprises: the low-end Xeon E3-1220L, which offers an eco-friendly 20W TDP in a dual-core 2.2GHz processor with 3MB L3 cache and the ability to overclock a single core to 3.4GHz using Turbo Boost; the Xeon E3-1260L, a quad-core 2.4GHz chip with a 45W TDP and 8MB of L3 cache alongside 3.3GHz Turbo Boost performance.

While the new processors, designed for low-power single-socket systems, are a good start, they still draw significantly more power than ARM's Cortex-A15 design - and while the performance per clock might be higher, that's not necessarily enough to keep multi-processor server vendors on side.

Accordingly, Intel has also outlined a roadmap for low-power server processors that promises a Sandy Bridge-based Xeon with a TDP of a mere 15W by the end of the year. This will be followed by ultra-low power chips based on the Atom design next year, with a promised TDP of under 10W.

The move clearly shows that Intel is doing its working hard to counter the threat posed by ARM-based designs in multi-core and low-power server configurations, despite concern from some companies that ARM servers are unlikely to take off in the short term due to software compatibility issues.