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Intel's Tukwila slips yet again

The release of its next-generation Itanium processor, code-named Tukwila, has now been moved out to the first quarter of 2010.

Intel has slipped out a revised schedule for its next-generation Itanium processor, code-named Tukwila. Again. This time it's into 2010.

Intel released a statement Thursday on the schedule changes. It reads in part:

During final system-level testing, we identified an opportunity to further enhance application scalability best optimized for high-end systems. This will result in a change to the Tukwila shipping schedule to Q1 2010.

In addition to better meeting the needs of our current Itanium customers, we believe this change will allow Tukwila systems a greater opportunity to gain share versus proprietary RISC solutions including Sparc and IBM Power. Tukwila is tracking to 2x performance vs its predecessor chip. This change is about delivering even further application scalability for mission critical workloads.

That may be true. However, the fact remains that this is yet another delay to the program. This will put Tukwila's introduction more than two years after the debut of the current "Montvale" generation--which itself was a delayed and modest speedbump to "Montecito"--and one that Intel barely announced publicly.

Tukwila has had an especially bumpy history. This generation of Itanium processor began life as a chip project code-named Tanglewood and was said to be envisioned as a radical multicore design by the ex-Digital Equipment Alpha engineers who worked on it.

First, Intel changed the code-name to Tukwila after the Tanglewood Music Festival complained. This was back in 2003--to give you an idea of how long this particular project has been weaving its way through development. At that time, it was slated for something in the neighborhood of a 2007 release.

Then the chip apparently went through a variety of significant design changes. It will still be the first Itanium to sport Intel's serial processor communications link (QuickPath Interconnect--QPI) and integrated memory controllers. Those are both major enhancements, but otherwise Tukwila is a more conventional quad-core evolution of current Itanium designs. It will also be manufactured with a 65-nanometer process instead of the denser 45-nanometer process already used by the newest Intel Xeon CPUs. Along the way, the chip's schedule has been publicly pushed back a number of times, now to early 2010.

As a practical matter, delays to Itanium matter less to Intel and the server makers that use it (meaning Hewlett-Packard first and foremost) than in the case of x86 Xeon, where a delay of a few months can have a major revenue impact--vis-a-vis Advanced Micro Device's Barcelona.

Buyers of high-end servers like HP's Superdome and NonStop value vendor relationships, reliability, and a wide range of enterprise-class capabilities far more than they do the last drop of performance. HP has done a good job of things like leveraging its c-Class BladeSystem infrastructure for its Itanium-based Integrity servers and putting together systematic go-to-market programs with partners such as SAP.

Nonetheless, at some point, ongoing delays have to hurt competitiveness--especially given how IBM's Power systems have been hitting on all cylinders the past few years.