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Intel Fleshes out Itanium 2 Line with High-performance, Lower Power Chips

Intel is shipping six new processors aimed at filling out its burgeoning Itanium 2 server CPU lineup. But, more than that, Intel hopes that the new CPUs will provide it with traction in server markets such as high-performance computing and large-scale databases that until only recently were strictly the domain of RISC processors.

The six new Itanium 2 processors include multiprocessor and dual-processor chips with faster clock speeds, as much as 9 MB of Level 3 (L3) cache and faster bus speeds. But this week’s announcement also brings with it a new low-power Itanium 2 targeted at blade servers.

The new CPUs are meant to fuel the company’s attack in key server markets such as high-performance computing and multiprocessing applications, and ultimately to drive usage models to so-called “commodity” chip architectures that Intel has thrived on at the desktop for more than a decade.

The showpiece of this week’s announcement, Intel’s top new Itanium 2 MP (meaning multi-processor capable) CPU clocks in at 1.6 GHz and comes with 9 MB of Level 3 (L3) cache integrated on the chip. The reason for the seemingly steroid-enhanced cache: very large databases demand more than simply more and more raw processing power. They also need to be able to cache large amounts of data for quick access.

“Cache makes the difference on databases,” says Nimish Modi, vice president of the Enterprise Platform Group in the Enterprise Microprocessor Division at Intel. “[IBM’s] Power [architecture] doesn’t have integrated cache,” he adds.

Martin Reynolds, a vice president at analysis firm Gartner in San Jose, California, agrees. “The main thing [about the announcement] is the bigger cache, which means that your servers become more efficient per square foot [and] that’s what customers want,” Reynolds says. “In these big servers [used for high-performance computing], it’s really the work it can do.”

Besides the 9 MB version, the new Itanium 2 MP is also available with either 6 or 3 MB of L3 cache (note that the 3 MB version runs at 1.5 GHz). They are priced at $4,226 for the 9 MB version (in lots of 1,000), $1980 for the 6 MB chip and $910 for the 3 MB CPU.

Three of the new Itanium 2 processors are for multi-processor configurations, two are for use in dual-processor systems with a choice of front-side-bus speeds (400MHz or 533MHz) and the sixth new CPU uses a mere 62 watts of power.

Designed for dual-processor systems, the two versions of the Itanium 2 DP both run at 1.6 GHz and feature a 3 MB L3 cache. Additionally, the CPUs come with a choice of a 400 MHz system bus, which costs $851 (in lots of 1000), or 533 MHz, which costs $1,172.

Meanwhile, the 62-watt Itanium 2 LV is a low voltage 1.3 GHz chip with 3 MB of L3 cache, and is priced at $530, making it appropriate for low-cost, high density deployments such as blade servers and Web applications.

Longer term, however, it’s about more than niche markets, even highly lucrative ones like high-performance computing. For now, Intel has gained credibility in some areas once reserved for RISC boxes.

“This is very much the ‘second age’ of Itanium, going into the high-end segment of the market,” says Gartner’s Reynolds. The ‘third age’ will be the point on Intel’s roadmap when the company’s commodity computing model spreads to the vast bulk of servers. But that will take time. How soon? 2010 at the earliest, says Reynolds.

So what comes next? Multi-core processors. “This is the last single-core launch from Intel,” says a company spokeswoman. “Next will come dual-core [CPUs] followed by multicore.”

About the Author

Stuart J. Johnston has covered technology, especially Microsoft, since February 1988 for InfoWorld, Computerworld, Information Week, and PC World, as well as for Enterprise Developer, XML & Web Services, and .NET magazines.

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