Can HP's 'Super' server save Itanium?

Intel's beleaguered processor could get boost when HP releases new top-end Superdome machine designed for it.

Intel's Itanium could get a boost by early 2006 when Hewlett-Packard releases a top-end server designed for the chip, though skeptics doubt the machine will be enough to turn around the beleaguered processor's fortunes.

HP's new top-end Superdome, like current models, has sockets to accommodate as many as 64 Itanium processors. But unlike current models, it will support the new Montecito and Montvale versions of Itanium, which are expected to boost performance substantially.

Most activity in the server market is happening elsewhere, however, said Sageza Group analyst Clay Ryder. "Even in the realm of Superdomes, how many of these does the world need in one given year? It's hard to push sales upward on high-end systems when the mediocre midrange of computing will exceed the needs of 99 percent of the market."

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What's new:
HP's upcoming top-end Superdome will support the new Montecito and Montvale versions of Itanium, which are expected to boost performance substantially.

Bottom line:
The Superdome server could provide a boost to the beleaguered Itanium family. But skeptics say that even if Itanium succeeds in the relatively narrow high-end market, that won't necessarily be enough to keep the processor alive.

More stories on Itanium

HP and Intel believe the new Itanium chips will dramatically boost performance, though. The chips include dual processing engines, called cores, and technology called multithreading that lets each core handle two instruction sequences at the same time.

But a faster chip means a greater appetite for data. "With dual-core and multithreading, you're going to need a new pipe to keep it fed," said Brian Cox, a product line manager for HP's high-end servers.

While the Itanium chips handle computing chores, the essential task of data transfer within the server is handled by a chipset code-named Arches. It's the third-generation Superdome chipset after the initial Yosemite model and the current Pinnacles. (The chipsets are named after national parks and monuments; Yosemite is home to the famous Half Dome peak that also was an early code name for Superdome.)

The Superdome release timing isn't clear. Intel plans to release the Montecito processor in late 2005, and HP will follow soon after. "When it's ready, it's ready," Cox said of the next Superdome. "We're waiting for full-speed silicon from Intel on the chips."

As with Pinnacles--officially called the sx1000--the Arches chipset also will be used in midrange systems with eight or 16 processor sockets, HP said. For smaller machines with one to four sockets, HP will use a chipset code-named Titan, a successor to the zx1 code-named Pluto.

The developments show HP's continuing commitment to Itanium, a chip family the company helped Intel develop as a replacement to its own PA-RISC family. Itanium, however, has fallen far short of its conquer-the-server-world expectations. Intel missed a 2004 Itanium goal of doubling 2003 shipments to 200,000, but there has been some progress: According to Gartner, sales of Itanium servers more than tripled to $1.6 billion in 2004.

Itanium still has skeptics. "The issue with Itanium and HP is one of

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