Intel revamps future Itanium chip plans

Intel Corp. disclosed an updated road map for its Itanium 2 processor line on Thursday, detailing work on future versions of the fledgling chip that should help keep the pressure on rivals Sun Microsystems Inc. and IBM Corp., according to an industry analyst.

Intel has previously said it plans to bring out a new 1.5GHz version of its Itanium 2 processor, code-named Madison, around mid-year and shortly follow that with the introduction of a more energy efficient Itanium 2 chip code-named Deerfield.

The company has now revealed that it also plans to roll out a second version of the Madison chip in 2004 that boosts the Level 3 cache size from 6MB to 9MB. Intel will then follow that with a dual-core processor code-named Montecito that should arrive in 2005, said Jason Waxman, marketing manager for enterprise processors at Intel.

The increase in the Madison’s cache size impressed at least one analyst.

“That will be one big chip,” said Nathan Brookwood, principal analyst at research company Insight 64 in Saratoga, Calif., about the Madison chip due in 2004. “You can’t make chips much bigger than that. This will undoubtedly keep Intel on top of the pack or close to the top of the pack through 2004.”

Intel’s Itanium 2 chips hold their own against the rest of the pack, competing well in industry computing benchmarks against the Power4 processor from IBM and Sun’s UltraSPARC chip. All of these 64-bit processors power high-end servers that can handle larger amounts of data than systems based on Intel’s 32-bit Xeon server processor.

While Itanium 2 has performed well, Intel is a relatively new entrant in the 64-bit server market and has yet to displace much of IBM or Sun’s business, according to analysts. Hewlett-Packard Co. is the biggest backer of Itanium but also sells competing servers based on its own PA-RISC and Alpha processors.

“Having leading edge performance or close to leading edge performance certainly helps in terms of their Itanium marketing effort; you also have to remember that raw processor performance is only one of the many factors that people consider in these types of systems,” Brookwood said.

One such factor is the more mature software market that exists for servers using chips from Sun and IBM.

Intel, based in Santa Clara, Calif., has also been behind in the race to produce dual core chips that put two processor cores in the same size package as current single core chips. To help combat this, Intel has pushed forward its schedule for the dual core Montecito chip.

“Originally, Montecito was due out in 2004,” Brookwood said. “So they clearly made a trade-off to produce a dual-core chip in 2005 instead of a single core in 2004.”

IBM already has two cores on its Power4 chip and Sun plans to introduce its dual core UltraSPARC IV chip later this year.