Intel's new chip doubles Itanium performance

Itanium 2 will achieve as much as twice the processing power of Intel's first 64-bit effort, potentially making it a contender against Sun and IBM chips

Intel has released more details about the performance of Itanium 2, its long-awaited second-generation 64-bit processor, promising to pull ahead of competitors like IBM and Sun Microsystems with up to twice the processing muscle of the current Itanium.

The performance improvements may help Intel gain a foothold in the lucrative market for high-end server processors, currently dominated by proprietary RISC chips from IBM and Sun. So far the first-generation Itanium has failed to make a dent in this market, as potential buyers wait for the improvements of Itanium 2.

If Itanium 2 fulfils its promise, it could bring high-end computing power to lower prices than were previously possible, by combining 64-bit processing with Intel's massive economies of scale. Sixty-four-bit chips handle data in larger chunks than the 32-bit processors that currently dominate PCs, allowing them to achieve greater performance with memory-heavy applications such as very large databases.

At the European Intel Developer Forum in Munich on Wednesday, Intel said Itanium 2 will deliver up to twice the performance of current Itaniums. For example, a four-processor Itanium 2 system will be able to support more than twice the number of sales and distribution transactions in enterprise resource planning (ERP) applications, compared with a similar Itanium system, Intel said.

In large database and transaction processing, Intel estimated that a four-processor Itanium 2 system will be able to handle about 50 percent more transactions per minute than a comparable UltraSparc III system from Sun.

Intel cited a study by Coradiant Research, a management consulting group, saying that a two-processor Itanium 2 server outperformed Itanium and UltraSparc III systems running on more chips, when running secure e-commerce transactions. A prototype two-way Itanium 2 system performed 1440 secure transactions per second, or 720 transactions per processor, on the RSA SSL-C benchmark, Intel said. This compared with 1376 transactions per second on a four-way Itanium system, and with 552 transactions per second on an eight-way UltraSparc III system.

Secure transactions take more processing power because of the encryption involved.

Itanium 2 will nearly double the performance of UltraSparc III in high-performance scientific and technical computing, Intel said, with a four-processor system delivering more than 13 gigaflops (13 billion floating-point operations per second). A single-processor Itanium 2 system will outperform Itanium by 90 percent on computer-aided design applications, Intel said.

"With Itanium 2-based systems, Intel will deliver on the promise of the Itanium architecture with industry-leading performance on a broad range of demanding enterprise computing and technical applications," said Mike Fister, senior vice president and general manager for Intel's Enterprise Platforms Group, in a statement.

Intel said Itanium 2 will include 3MB of on-die Level 3 memory cache, a type of memory used for handling frequently accessed data, and a three-fold increase in system bus bandwidth over Itanium. The system bus provides access to other parts of the computer system, such as memory.

The upcoming chip runs at a faster clock speed as well, having reached 1GHz. The clock speed is low compared to speeds on desktop processors, but more work is carried out per clock.

Developers who have already created applications for Itanium will be able to take advantage of Itanium 2's greater performance without modifying their code, Intel said, because the processor is generation-to-generation compatible. Software made for Pentium III, for example, needs to be recompiled for Pentium 4 in order to achieve top performance.

Fister said that Itanium 2 will become available in limited quantities in mid-2002 and will gradually roll out through the rest of the year.

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