Intel to boost Itanium 2 servers

The chipmaker will release new products later this year that let computer makers build servers with as many as eight Itanium 2 processors.

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Intel will release new products later this year that let computer makers build servers with as many as eight Itanium 2 processors--and more if the manufacturers add their own improvements.

The Intel E8870 chipset will be available late in the third quarter or early in the fourth, Doug Shuda, Intel's marketing manager for the product, said in an interview on Monday. Intel expects that server makers will use it chiefly for building four- or eight-processor servers, though it can be used to build 16-processor machines as well.

Chipsets, which connect a computer's main processors with other parts such as memory, network cards and other processors, are key parts of computers. In multiprocessor systems--the kinds that run heavy-duty jobs such as logging purchases at a chain of department stores--good chipsets are crucial to overall system performance.

Intel has had a spotty track record with server chipsets. The vast majority of Intel-based servers come with chipsets from Broadcom subsidiary ServerWorks, though Intel still profits because most of its money comes from processors.

Intel formerly called the E8870 its 870 chipset, first announced in August 2000. Though the processor can work with either 32-bit server processors such as Xeon or 64-bit Itanium products, Intel has chosen to release it only with Itanium chips.

The Itanium has been a difficult chip for Intel. The idea for the chip came from Hewlett-Packard, which approached Intel with hopes of making the product mainstream and low cost. But the Itanium line has been delayed several times. The processor family is designed for servers with requirements for data protection, large numbers of processors and copious memory.

The first Itanium was largely a dud relegated to the unspectacular job of helping programmers overhaul their software for the new line of processors, but Intel has been raising expectations that the Itanium 2 sequel, due in mid-2002, will be better. Chipsets will help enable this future.

The second-generation Itanium (Itanium 2), code-named McKinley, won't just come with chipsets from Intel. Other products will include HP's zx1 "Pluto" chipset for one- to four-processor machines; IBM's EXA "Summit" chipset for four-, eight-, 12- or 16-processor machines; Hitachi's ColdFusion-2 chipset for eight-processor machines; NEC's 32-processor chipset that builds on its 16-processor AzusA product that supported the first Itanium. Unisys also will support the processor in its 32-processor CMP systems.

Intel's 8870 is used for four-processor servers. Combined with a high-speed switch called the Scalabilty Port Switch, the chipset becomes the E9870 and accommodates as many as four groups of four processors for a total of 16, though Intel expects most to stick with eight processors at most.

The 9870 will be available by the end of the year, Shuda said.

Through the use of other companies' switches, the 8870 building blocks can be stacked up to build systems with a whopping 512 processors, Shuda said.

Unisys plans one such hybrid system with 16 processors, while French computer maker Bull plans a 32-processor system. Systems such as these will be available in the fourth quarter.

Intel designed the E8870 chipset to last. Servers built around it will be able to accommodate not only Itanium 2, but faster successors including those code-named Madison due in 2003 and Montecito due in 2004, Shuda said.

"We have a fair amount of headroom" to accommodate faster future processors, he said.