Intel draws out Itanium arrival

Though the chipmaker will meet its most recent schedule set after a series of Itanium delays, servers using the chip design may hit the market at a more gradual pace.

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Stephen Shankland
4 min read
SAN JOSE, Calif.--The slow arrival of Intel's upcoming Itanium processor for high-end servers just got a little slower.

Though Intel will meet its most recent schedule set after a series of Itanium delays, servers incorporating the chip design may hit the market at a more gradual pace than earlier anticipated.

In a keynote address Thursday at the Intel Developer Forum here, Mike Fister, general manager of the enterprise platforms group, said manufacturers would begin shipments of Itanium-based computers in the second quarter--but that "broader deployment" will happen in the second half of 2001.

In July, Intel had said "general availability" of Itanium-based computers would be in the first half of 2000.

Insight 64 analyst Nathan Brookwood said the new schedule is "stretching" earlier announcements of availability. "At every stage, nothing on this program has happened as early as anybody expected," he said.

Intel's Fister said computer manufacturers will unveil Itanium-based systems over a period of months. For example, IBM may introduce a Linux machine early, while Hewlett-Packard might unveil a system with its own HP-UX operating system a little later in the year, he said.

Intel is in the middle of a years-long process to convert its power in the desktop computer processor market into similar dominance in the server world. The Itanium processor is Intel's flagship--albeit a battered one--in this effort.

While Intel's Pentium chips are immensely popular for lower-end servers, the Santa Clara, Calif.-based chipmaker has yet to displace the central processing units made by competitors Sun Microsystems, Compaq Computer, HP, IBM and SGI for high-end machines.

The McKinley milestone
Even Intel acknowledges that Itanium's second-generation successor, code-named McKinley, will probably be more useful to customers than its predecessor.

During the keynote address Thursday, Fister said that although Itanium is useful for some e-commerce tasks, many customers will wait for McKinley to run high-end business software--such as that from SAP or Siebel Systems.

But few discount Intel's power in the long run. For one thing, Intel's huge manufacturing complex allows the company to produce processors at a lower cost. The company also specializes in all-purpose designs and produces them in large quantities to be sold by as many manufacturers as possible.

Brookwood expects the delay between McKinley prototypes and shipping products to be less than the delays between Itanium versions. The reason: Much of the difficulty of unveiling Itanium has been in preparing software and programming tools for the radically new chip design. That work won't have to be reproduced for McKinley, the analyst said.

"If McKinley stays on target, the period between pilot and platform release will be considerably shorter because the software will have been shaken out a bit," Brookwood said.

A lower-end CPU likely to gain more attention in the near term is Foster, the code name for the server version of the Pentium 4. Foster now is officially named Xeon, Fister said, as Intel has dropped the "Pentium" prefix that was part of the preceding Xeon line.

Dual-processor workstations using Foster Xeon chips will arrive in the second quarter, while servers with two processors or more will arrive in the second half of the year, he said.

Intel later this month will unveil the last Pentium III Xeon, running at 900MHz with 2MB of high-speed "cache" memory, he said.

Packing in the power
As expected, Fister also described plans for a new line of servers that cram increasing amounts of computing horsepower into racks of computers.

Drawing on experience from its portable computers, Intel will build several CPUs and chipsets for this new type of "ultradense" server, Fister said. Mobile systems, like ultradense servers, have problems with minimizing power consumption and keeping faster processors cool.

Intel will use the very same CPUs designed for laptops in the ultradense servers, Fister said in an interview with CNET News.com.

The chips and chipsets Intel plans to create will run the power gamut, from full-featured, powerful chips to lower-power processors that don't have as much computing power, he said.

The low-powered chipsets will arrive later this year, Fister said. Computer makers are likely to build their own chipsets as well as augment Intel chipsets with their own designs, he added.

One ultradense server chipset, the 815em, will accommodate CPUs that need 2.56 watts of power and will accommodate a maximum of 512MB of memory. And the 440MX chipset will work with 2.1-watt systems with only 256MB of memory, Fister said.

Intel also has two "Ketris" servers based on technology acquired when it bought Ziatech in August. One is 3.5 inches thick and holds four separate servers, while another is 15.75 inches thick and holds 16 servers.

To InfiniBand and beyond
Fister also took the opportunity during his keynote address to plug InfiniBand, an upcoming standard for connecting servers, storage systems and networks.

Though two of the three InfiniBand demonstrations went awry, Fister assured the audience that InfiniBand technology is well on its way. By the end of this year, adapter cards for current servers will be available that will bring InfiniBand communications to server technology.

InfiniBand support also will be built into McKinley-based systems, he said. InfiniBand will work alongside the current Ethernet network standard, not replace it, Fister added.