IT budgets are tight but that shouldn't be too big an impediment to the success of Intel's long-trailed 'Nehalem EX' Xeon 7500 processor family. The remarkable benchmarks for the just-launched product suggest a far more significant leap than is normal with a new line of chips and server makers will be able to provide CIOs and CTOs with a very compelling case for early adoption.

The chips support up to an integral eight cores, 16 threads andhuge memory bandwidth and can be hooked together via a fast interconnect technology that will allow system makers to build very scalable servers with enormous RAM configurations that will in particular act as powerful hosts for consolidated virtualised applications.

The latest Nehalem servers will also certainly challenge Sun, IBM and others in the proprietary RISC sector, especially as they pack a series of RAS (reliability, availability and serviceability) features. Interestingly, this should also cut deeper into the high-end niche space occupied by Intel's own Itanium processor, a brand largely differentiated in the past by 64bit processing support and RAS capabilities.

More important in the short-term, for the huge number of companies that rely on Xeon to power their datacentres, the entire Nehalem range is a very obvious swap-out for previous generations. It will allow companies to reduce power consumption, improve performance and swap out several previous generation boxes to make optimal use of physical space, potentially reduce software licences sold on a per-server or per-processor tariff and get better value from co-location datacentre providers.

"We don't expect it to return to free spending and every purchase has to be justified [because] you see a lot of CIOs reporting into CFOs [and] it's pretty accountable," said Intel platform director Shannon Poulin. "But 80 per cent of servers out there are single or dual-core so there's a tremendous opportunity to replace."

There is, and even if there is no clear evidence that we are out of the recession for the foreseeable future, the Nehalem generation would appear to be that rarest of hardware releases: a product with clear and demonstrable short-term return-on-investment.