IDF: Itanium line to grow over next three years

Intel is continuing its relentless assault on big-iron enterprise servers, with a new 64-bit processor to come out every year for the next three years

Intel is planning one new processor a year for three years in its Itanium-based 64-bit series, said Lisa Hambrick, director of Enterprise Processor Marketing at the Intel Developers Forum in San Francisco. The first of these -- McKinley -- is due out this summer after a year of testing.

Aimed at the highest end of the enterprise market segment, the processor family is targeted at systems currently costing $25,000 upwards, said Hambrick. This is an area where Intel has traditionally been weak against RISC chips from HP, Compaq, Sun and so on: by the time system prices reach $500,000, virtually all the market belongs to RISC processors.

However, Hambrick said, RISC vendors such as HP and Compaq have been moving product lines over to the Itanium architecure, bringing their development resources with them. While 20 systems were currently shipping with that first-generation IA-64 chip, more than 35 will do so when McKinley comes out. Typically, companies had been offering one or two systems on Itanium but will be doing three or four with McKinley --- more server designs, and more multiprocessor options. Hambrick said that McKinley would appear on some very large systems with 64 or more processors.

Over the past year, she said, McKinley had more than halved the latencies of its internal cache and now had a full speed memory bus. It has triple the register count of Sun's UltraSPARC architecture, and more processing units. She quoted some results from a test customer who'd been weaned off Sun onto Itanium and thence onto McKinley, showing speed increases of between 1.5 to 2 times over Itanium. Old Itanium code ran half as fast again on McKinley, with extra speed available if it was recompiled explicitly for the new processor. Her test customer, she said, was running a very typical mix of software --- Windows, SQL and custom code for financial transaction control.

As production technology improved, she said that new Itanium-compatible processors would appear. Next year will see Madison on 0.13um silicon with a 6MB third-level cache, and 2004 would bring Montecito into the world at 90nm. That would have a bigger cache again, although she demurred when asked for details. All three processors --- McKinley, Madison and Montecito --- would be platform compatible, with the same bus, same chipset and same form factor, meaning that the newer chips will plug into old boards. All would be software compatible --- although better performance would be obtainable if software was recompiled for each new chip --- and all would keep IA-32 compatibility. Work was also being done with many different vendors on optimising Java, and initial results showed that the same performance increases were appearing for Java as for Itanium native code.

As for the fate of the Alpha design team that Intel inherited from Compaq when that company decided to stop developing its own processors, Hambrick said that they were working on post-2003 products but didn't want to talk about any involvement with Montecito. She denied that future chips would have Alpha compatibility, but wouldn't comment about the adoption of the Alpha bus -- considered by some to have better potential for avoiding bottlenecks than the IA-64 bus configuration.

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