Better Late Than Never, Intel Delivers New Itanium Chips


"We know we had a few delays over the years, but it's better to get this stuff right," said Kirk Skaugen, vice president of the Intel Architecture Group, introducing five new Itanium processors for mission-critical computing on UNIX servers at an event in San Francisco.

The initial Itanium 9300 lineup offers double the performance of the preceding Itanium 9100 series of central processors, according to Santa Clara, Calif.-based Intel. The new chips each have a whopping two billion transistors, the most on any processor ever built by Intel.

Tukwila, arriving well after Intel's initial target of a 2007 release, is a 64-bit design that incorporates a good deal of the new technology built into the chip maker's current generation of Xeon chips for x86-based servers and workstations. Such improvements include Turbo Boost for throttling CPU core frequencies up or down depending on workload requirements, as well as the addition of QuickPath Interconnect, which Intel said can transfer data nine times faster than its old standard CPU bus.

The Itanium 9300 series features one dual-core chip and four quad-cores ranging in price from $946 to $3,838, per Intel's updated processor price list. Tukwila utilizes Intel's 65-nanometer process technology, putting it two nodes behind the chip maker's current 32nm generation of PC client-optimized Core-branded products introduced in January.

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Though Itanium unit shipments are low relative to the chip giant's enormous business in x86-based PC and server chips, Skaugen said Intel has gained share in the market for the expensive, ultra-reliable processors that power mission-critical systems for the largest multinational corporations.

That growth in market share came even as the overall market has shrunk in recent years for UNIX servers based on Itanium and rival RISC-based chips like IBM's Power and recent Oracle acquisition Sun's SPARC products. IDC in December reported that in the third quarter of 2009, UNIX server revenue dropped 23.4 percent compared to the same period in 2008.

IBM, the market leader in the category, unveiled its own next-generation Power7 series on Monday, debuting a lineup of eight-core processors that succeed the Power6 lineup as the Armonk, N.Y.-based company's top-of-the-line UNIX server products.

Also on hand for Monday's Itanium showcase was Hewlett-Packard, and no wonder -- Palo Alto, Calif.-based HP ships as much as 95 percent of all Itanium-based product, according to some reports. Once the third player along with IBM and Sun in an equilibrium of vertically integrated UNIX system builders, HP several years ago ported over the development of new silicon to its partner Intel while continuing to build its HP-UX servers based on what became Itanium.

HP will ship new Tukwila-based systems within 90 days, according to Martin Fink, senior vice president and general manager of business critical systems for HP's Enterprise Servers, Storage and Networking business unit.

The lack of actual Tukwila-based server product for as far out as three months stood in contrast to IBM's target of volume shipments of the first Power7-based servers in just under two weeks.

Meanwhile, Skaugen said that Itanium customers won't have to wait nearly as long for the next major update to the product line as they did for Tukwila. Intel plans to release an Itanium product code-named Poulson in just two years, which will skip over the 45nm node and go straight to 32nm. Four years from now, another upgrade, code-named Kittson is scheduled on Intel's product roadmap, he said.

Intel Itanium 9300 Series -- Specs and Prices


Itanium 9350 (1.73GHz, 185W, 24MB L3 cache): $3,838

Itanium 9340 (1.60GHz, 185W, 20MB L3 cache): $2,059

Itanium 9330 (1.46GHz, 155W, 20MB L3 cache): $2,059

Itanium 9320 (1.33GHz, 155W, 16MB L3 cache): $1,614


Itanium 9310 (1.60GHz, 130W, 10MB L3 cache): $946