Intel fleshes out Itanium plans

The chipmaker details upcoming releases and highlights two new technologies for the family of processors.

Michael Kanellos Staff Writer, CNET News.com
Michael Kanellos is editor at large at CNET News.com, where he covers hardware, research and development, start-ups and the tech industry overseas.
Michael Kanellos
3 min read
SAN FRANCISCO--Intel described two new technologies for its Itanium family and fleshed out its plans for the processor, as the company tries to build momentum for the high-end server chip.

Later this year, the company plans to release an enhanced version of the so-called Madison Itanium 2 chip that will run at 1.7GHz and contain 9MB of level-three cache. Although Intel has discussed the supersize cache, the speed has not been disclosed before. Current Madisons have a maximum of 6MB of cache and a top speed of 1.5GHz. Typically, more cache and faster chip speeds lead to greater performance.

Additionally, the company plans to come out with Fanwood, a less expensive version of Madison. Fanwood will run at 1.6GHz, slower than the 1.5GHz Madison chips selling today, and contain 3MB of level-three cache. Intel also will release a 1.2GHz version of Fanwood that consumes less power than the 1.6GHz version, Mike Fister, general manager of the Enterprise Platforms Group at Intel, said during a keynote speech Wednesday at the Intel Developer Forum here.

In 2005, the company is expected to release a whole new line of Itanium 2 chips. Montecito will contain two processor cores, the brain inside the brain that is the processor, and a 24MB level-three cache. Millington, meanwhile, will be a budget version of Montecito. A low-power version of Millington also will come out.

The Montecito and Millington chips will contain two new technologies: Foxton for power management and Pellston for correcting data errors in the cache.

There will even be a budget, low-power version of Tukwila, the multicore offspring of Itanium that is expected to be released toward the middle of the decade. It is code-named Dimona, Fister said.

The future of Itanium is the central theme at the forum taking place this week. Servers that use the chip, which specializes in running complex 64-bit code, have posted some of the highest benchmarks in the industry, according to organizations that tally those results.

Sales of the chip also have picked up. Intel CEO Craig Barrett on Tuesday said that more than 110,000 Itanium chips have shipped since the processor's introduction, and most of those shipped last year.

Fister said the price of Itanium is dropping fast. In a few years, servers that use the chip won't cost any more than those running the now less expensive Intel Xeon processor, he said.

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"I expect that by middle of the decade we will cost parity with Xeon with about twice the performance," he said.

The server market, however, is increasingly dominated by so-called x86 chips that can run standard Windows or Linux code. More than 90 percent of servers shipped in the fourth quarter contained x86 chips such as Xeon or Advanced Micro Devices' Opteron. More than half the server industry's revenue comes from x86 servers.

While Itanium can run Windows or Linux code, it runs well only when software has been specifically ported to it. Although Microsoft has released a version of Windows for Itanium and more than 1,000 applications exist, it's a comparatively small universe.

This week, Intel also announced that it plans to release a version of Xeon in the second quarter, code-named Nocona, that can run standard 32-bit Windows or Linux code as well as enhanced 64-bit versions of this software. Analysts have predicted that this sort of capability could slow any budding momentum for Itanium. A 64-bit chip can pull data out of a vast amount of memory, while 32-bit chips can only harvest from 4GB, a ceiling many server users have already hit.

Fister, though, said that the two lines will coexist and that Intel will dedicate resources to developing both lines. For the most part, Itanium will go into computers with the most complex workloads such as databases. Still, in a few years, the two chips' markets will begin to cross over, probably in the four-processor server market, he said.