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Intel's long-awaited Montecito set for debut

Chipmaker will trumpet energy efficiency improvements at the July 18 launch of the delayed high-end server chip.

Intel will launch its "Montecito" version of Itanium, the first dual-core version of the processor, on July 18, sources familiar with the event said.

The gargantuan chip, with 1.7 billion transistors, will be the new flagship of Intel's sometime-stumbling effort to extend the influence it's achieved with Xeon and Pentium to the high-end server market, where Sun Microsystems' Sparc and IBM's Power chips are more widely used.

Intel had planned to launch Montecito in 2005. But in October, it delayed its release, slowed its top speed by 200MHz and disabled a feature code-named Foxton that would have let the chip run another 200MHz faster when it was cool enough.

Patrick Gelsinger Pat Gelsinger, general manager, Digital Enterprise Group, Intel

The highest-end Montecito is expected to run at a top speed of 1.6GHz, a notch slower than the original 2GHz Intel had planned (including the Foxton speed boost). But the Montecito chips, to be called the Itanium 2 9000 series, will fit in better with Intel's current energy-conscious priority of performance per watt. Montecito will consume a maximum of 100 watts, compared with 130 watts for current Itanium models. That means Itanium should increase performance by a factor of 2 and performance per watt by a factor of 2.5, Intel has said.

Intel declined to comment for this story. But Pat Gelsinger, a senior vice president in Intel's Digital Enterprise Group, said in March that Intel would start shipping Montecito in the second quarter of 2006. And in June, at the launch of its "Woodcrest" version of Xeon, Intel said Montecito had begun shipping to customers.

Intel won't be the only company at the San Francisco launch event on July 18. Hewlett-Packard, Intel's primary Itanium partner, also will participate, an HP representative said, though no other details were offered. The computer maker plans to revamp its "Arches" Superdome server with Montecito.

HP came up with the initial Itanium family idea and helped Intel design some of the chips. But it's the only one of the four major server sellers to back the chip: IBM and Dell canceled their Itanium-based servers, and Sun only dabbled with software support for the chip.

However, several smaller companies sell Itanium models, including Fujitsu, Unisys, Hitachi, Silicon Graphics, NEC and Bull. Unisys also plans to attend the event and take Montecito to its ES7000 servers when the chip becomes generally available, a company representative said.

Montecito will mean Intel has a dual-core answer to Sun and IBM, which both have sold dual-core chips for years. Intel and its main rival, Advanced Micro Devices, also already have dual-core x86 chips.

Some Montecito models will be single-core chips, though. In addition, Intel plans less-expensive Montecito models with smaller caches and lower power consumption.

Even single cores have the ability to run multiple independent instruction sequences, or threads, through a feature called Hyperthreading. And Montecito also adds support for Intel's Virtualization Technology (VT), which makes it easier to run multiple operating systems simultaneously on one computer.