Intel's friends pass on Itanium chipset

Hewlett-Packard, Fujitsu and SGI give a ho-hum to the precursor to the dual-core "Montecito."

Intel released the latest upgrade to its Itanium processor, but not all the chipmaker's friends are eager to jump on the bandwagon.

As previously reported, Intel is now shipping two versions of its Itanium 2 processor from its 64-bit "Madison" family. The chips run at speeds of 1.66GHz, with computer memory cache sizes of 9MB ($4,655) and 6MB ($2,194). More impressive is the revised front-side bus, which, according to Intel, now transfers data to and from the chip at speeds of 667MHz.

The improvement to the chipset sets the stage for the forthcoming dual-core Itanium processor, code-named Montecito, which will feature the same bus architecture.

Computer maker Hitachi said it would adopt the new Itanium 2 processors for its BladeSymphony servers, due in the next 30 days.

But Intel's other Itanium friends are not as eager to ship computer systems with the new front-side bus. Representatives with Hewlett-Packard, Fujitsu and SGI said they would wait to align their product road maps with the upcoming Montecito processors.

"HP uses their own chipset, as does Hitachi, Fujitsu and SGI," said Nathan Brookwood, an analyst with "Unless you are getting your boxes or motherboards from Intel, odds are the faster bus will be of little interest to you."

Smaller regional players such as computer maker Bull and network integrators Unisys, EDS and Accenture are much more likely to adopt the new Itanium processors, Brookwood said.

The improved front-side bus bandwidth allows for 10.6 gigabits of data per second to pass from the processor to other system components. In contrast, the current generation 400MHz FSB transfers 6.4 gigabits of data per second.

"By stepping up the bus speed, you can feed the processor's voracious appetite for data, and the dual-core processors are going to have an even more voracious appetite," Brookwood said. "Intel typically introduces chips and chipsets on a staggered basis. In the case of Itanium, there have been several products--McKinley, Madison and the second version of Madison--that have all been served by the same chipset. So this marks a real shift for Intel."

While sales of Itanium have been off the mark in the past--$1.4 billion in 2004, according to IDC--Intel is still optimistic, since eight of nine RISC vendors and six of seven mainframe vendors sell mainframe-class Itanium-based servers. Intel is expected to approach scientific, oil and gas, and government industries with the new versions of its high-performance chip.

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