New Itaniums Aiming High

Arthur Cole

Intel roiled the waters in the high-end processor segment last week, unleashing seven new dual-core Itaniums targeting high-end applications with improved data reliability and less power consumption.


The new Itanium 9100 series, Montvale, marks that sixth generation of that line, with Intel officials saying three additional generations are under development. The 64-bit processors (seven quads and one single-core on a 90 nm process) reach clock speeds of 1.66 GHs with a front-side bus of 667 MHz. The set features two processors on the same bus that boosts bandwidth, even while keeping the set on a 104-watt power envelope.


Even more interesting is the new error detection and correction system called Core Level Lock-Step, which works in conjunction with the Socket Level Lock-Step tool found on earlier chips to ensure that calculations are in sync between the core and the socket. Intel has also added something called Demand Based Switching (DBS) that provides automatic shut-down during periods of low utilization.


Whenever Intel launches a new product, it has almost become a habit to analyze it in terms of how it affects the company's rivalry with AMD. But in this case, Intel has bigger fish to fry, namely IBM and Sun. IBM said the new release brings Itanium, which was originally touted as the savior of high-end computing, to the level of the IBM Power series and the Sun Sparc line. But even though the Itanium is now supported by more than 12,000 applications, it's difficult to see how the Montvale alone will push the Itanium further into the mainstream.


That task will likely be better handled by the next Itanium release, the Tukwila. These were originally scheduled for release in 2007, but with the Montvale debut pushed back from its original 2006 launch, it looks like the Tukwila's won't be out until late next year, or possibly 2009. For Intel, the impact of these delays is tempered a bit by slowdowns in the development of the new Power6's and the upcoming UltraSparc RK devices, but it still would be nice for users to start seeing clock rates in the 2 GHz range sooner rather than later.


In any event, expect to start seeing the new Itaniums in systems from Fujitsu, Fujitsu-Siemens, HP, Hitachi and others within the next year, but pricing will be at a premium. The chips alone will run anywhere from about $700 to $3,700.

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