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Commentary: Itanium advances

Gartner says Itanium's raw performance casts no shadow over Intel's other processors. The chip will continue to close the gap on Pentium performance.

By Martin Reynolds, Gartner Analyst

Itanium's raw performance casts no shadow over Intel's other processors. This shortcoming has placed the server chip in a weak position when coupled with the need for a completely new object code.

See news story:
Intel sees double with Itanium 2
However, Itanium was designed to deal with three critical issues: long-term memory performance, integrity and server performance. These factors must all be balanced carefully for enterprise applications. The result is a bit different from what a desktop speed-demon chip delivers.

Regarding the issue of the memory performance, processors run at speeds in the gigahertz range, while memory subsystems still have access speeds of about 20MHz. That performance gap will continue to widen because processor manufacturers make their money on high clock-speed specifications and memory makers focus on price-per-megabyte specifications. One solution is a larger cache. Itanium 2 has a 3MB cache on the die itself, and Intel's other processors are looking more and more like fast memories with a processor embedded on the die.

Another solution is a new architecture. Itanium's highly parallel architecture will continue to increase in performance as its compiler advances.

Moreover, Itanium is designed for a different environment. It incorporates features that are designed to guarantee the integrity of data--features that are missing from Intel's other processors.

Itanium 2 also offers a dramatically faster system bus than the Pentium 4, running at 6.4 GB per second compared to 4.2 GB per second, and the ability to connect multiple processors in parallel without crippling the system bus.

In the long run, some of the benefits from the research and development for the Itanium architecture will make their way into the Pentium line. At the same time, the astonishing manufacturing advances behind the Pentium 4--which were not foreseen when Itanium was planned--will make their way into Itanium, such as faster clock speeds and greater resources.

Gartner expects that Itanium will continue to close the gap on Pentium performance, while offering the security, reliability and integrity that enterprise-class servers require.

Enterprises should carefully evaluate Itanium against their requirements. For some applications, it may be the most cost-effective alternative. And as Itanium advances in its abilities, it will sweep more applications into its fold. It is important to determine those applications for which Itanium is effective, and avoid those for which it is not.

(For a related commentary on the Itanium processor family, see gartner.com.)

Entire contents, Copyright © 2002 Gartner, Inc. All rights reserved. The information contained herein represents Gartner's initial commentary and analysis and has been obtained from sources believed to be reliable. Positions taken are subject to change as more information becomes available and further analysis is undertaken. Gartner disclaims all warranties as to the accuracy, completeness or adequacy of the information. Gartner shall have no liability for errors, omissions or inadequacies in the information contained herein or for interpretations thereof.