Dell finally signs up to Itanium 2

Written by Michael Kanellos, Contributor


Despite being one of the more visible sceptics of Intel's Itanium chip family, Dell Computer will incorporate the Itanium 2 chip into future high-powered computers, a Dell executive said yesterday. The Texas-based computer giant will come out with computers containing Intel's latest 64-bit chip, called Itanium 2, according to Joe Marengi, senior VP for Dell's Americas division. "We will support Intel all the way on this... We will have an IA-64 2 [Itanium 2] product on our roadmap," Marengi said in an interview with CNET News.com. "The technology is totally solid." The change of mood on Itanium 2 seems to close the book on one of the more florid server melodramas of the past year. Itanium is Intel's entry into the market for chips for high-end servers, a lucrative field currently dominated by Unix systems containing chips from HP, IBM and Sun Microsystems. While it scores high on benchmark tests, Itanium has not sold because of product delays and a lack of software, according to analysts and high-tech executives. To run well, Itanium requires different software than Intel's Xeon or Pentium chips, which process data in 32-bit chunks. Chips that process data in 64-bit chunks, such as Sun's UltraSparc and Itanium, can digest twice as much data at once. Among other benefits, these 64-bit machines can handle more than 4GB of memory - the limit for 32-bit machines. Still, the performance benefits are simply theoretical if the software doesn't exist. Although both HP and IBM have introduced Itanium machines, Dell has been more cautious. Last year, Marengi said that demand for Itanium servers in the current economic climate was "effectively zero". Dell released a workstation containing the original Itanium chip in 2001 but then quietly pulled it off the market. Simultaneously, Dell began a fairly public flirtation with Advanced Micro Devices, which next year will come out with Opteron, a server chip that can run software written for Xeon and Pentium chips as well as 64-bit versions of these applications. Opteron represents an easy path to the 64-bit club for PC makers, according to analysts. CEO Michael Dell and other company executives have said that Dell has been testing Opteron for the past year. Recently, company representatives have said that Dell will make its 64-bit decision clear by the end of the year. While Marengi declined to discuss Opteron in depth, he noted that the benchmark scores of Itanium are relatively strong and that the path for adoption among corporate customers seems inevitable. "Over time, that [Itanium] is going to be the technology that takes hold," he said. Last year he was negative on Itanium, but "this year I am in a neutral-to-positive stance", he added.
Still, Dell has not committed to how or when it will adopt Itanium. The technology downturn has put a damper on server purchases. SoundView Technology analyst Mark Speckter said that Dell's vacillation over the past year was largely for show. Adopting AMD chips would have required Dell to design completely new computers as well as stock additional parts. Servers running AMD chips have also historically been shunned by corporate buyers, he added. Meanwhile, Microsoft has continued to pledge its support to Itanium. Itanium has been "not a matter of if they [Dell] do it, it is a matter of when", Speckter said. Scott Randall, also an analyst at SoundView, said that Opteron was also hurt by delays. If the chip had come out six months ago, it would have posed more of a competitive threat, he said. Neither Intel nor AMD representatives could be reached for comment. Michael Kanellos writes for CNET News.com.
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