Itanium: Behind Intel's new brand

Pentium, Xeon -- here's another made up name for an Intel chip: Itanium... Read how Intel comes up with its brands.

The company on Monday revealed that Itanium is the brand name for its first IA-64 processor. The brand name will replace Merced, the product's code name.

Intel officials said they liked the solid metal imagery that Itanium conjured up in market tests. Although the first 64-bit processor isn't due until mid-2000, Intel wanted to start getting the industry and customers used to the name, company officials said. "What we're taking out of play is the Merced code name ... replacing it with Itanium," said Jami Dover, vice president of Intel's sales and marketing group and director of worldwide marketing.

The process by which Intel decided on the new name was as scientific as creating the chip itself.

The company embarked on a trademark search, conducted focus groups and sought to make sure that Itanium would mesh with local languages around the world. "When we come up with a name, we want it to be reflective of the particular product," Dover said. "We wanted to enforce the strength and performance of this processor."

Intel also liked the idea of having the "ium" suffix, as in Pentium. However, "We needed to distinguish (Itanium) from the Pentium Xeon family, which is IA-32. We also needed to make it very clear that this is not a processor for the desktops," she said.

The Xeon processors are 32-bit chips, able to process up to 32 instructions per clock cycle. They serve the same market as Itanium, workstations and servers. Itanium, however, being 64-bit, will take over the high end of those two markets, according to Intel.

Announcing a product's name before it ships has become an Intel practice, starting with the Xeon processor. More recently, Intel announced the Pentium III brand at the beginning of February. It then waited two weeks to announce the actual processors, allowing OEMs to introduce Pentium III systems two weeks later.

Intel has also begun branding its technologies. Later this week, the chip maker will officially reveal SpeedStep, the name for a mobile Pentium III feature formerly known as Geyserville. The feature allows the chip to run at a lower clock speed and voltage, increasing battery life. Advanced Micro Devices chose a new name for its next generation K7 chip. When it picked the name Athlon for the processor, it was looking to distance the higher performing next-generation chip from its K6 siblings and inspire a performance-oriented image in the minds of potential customers.

AMD is expected to expand on its Athlon brand, introducing Athlon Ultra, a version of the chip for new high-end Athlon chips for the workstation and server market at this week's Microprocessor Forum in San Jose, California. The new chips will have higher amounts of cache. Supporting motherboards will enable dual and eventually four way processor configurations.

Intel will make public at the Microprocessor Forum on Tuesday a new Itanium white paper that includes a few additional details about the chip, said Stephen Smith, Intel vice president and general manager of the IA-64 processor division.

Among other things, the chip can process up to six instructions in parallel per clock. It will include three levels of memory, two of which are integrated or "on die" and third, called level 3 cache, which offers 4MB of error correcting memory located inside the Itanium cartridge. The memory, Intel says, can help contain errors in one area and continue on with other tasks. A high speed bus will allow the external level 3 cache to run at full processor speed, which helps increase performance.

The chip includes two floating point units which are able muster up to three gigaflops of extended precision or up to six gigaflops of single precision. The FPU is the part of the processor that handles mathematical calculations and is used heavily by graphics applications. Intel will also state that the Itanium will be able to run security algorithms, such as those developed by RSA, up to three times faster than Pentium processors of 2000, Smith said. Intel, of Santa Clara, California, delivered samples of the Itanium processor in August.

Take me to the Merced Special.