8 July 2002 Semiconductor giant Intel has today unveiled its 64-bit Itanium 2 microprocessor. The new chip will help Intel take on Sun Microsystems and IBM architectures in the high end of the server market – where the original Itanium, launched 12 months ago, conspicuously failed.
According to benchmark figures released by Intel, the Itanium 2 offers performance comparable with IBM’s fastest Power4 chips and much faster than Sun’s UltraSparc III.
Intel claims that its one gigahertz (GHz) Itanium 2 offers one-and-a-half times the transaction processing performance compared to the 1.05 GHz UltraSparc III and two times in terms of floating point mathematical calculations.
However, while Sun is planning an UltraSparc IV with radically increased performance for early 2003, Intel is planning no further speed increases for Itanium until its next iteration, codenamed Madison, which is scheduled for summer 2003.
Sun also points out that because it builds the systems as well as the chip, it can offer better all-round system performance and reliability, compared to hardware vendors building servers around commodity parts, including Intel microprocessors.
According to analysts at IDC, Intel already accounts for 88% of total server unit shipments worldwide, although only 40% by value because of its predominance at the low-end of the market. With Itanium 2, it plans to drive Sun, IBM and others from their proprietary chip architectures over to commodity Intel.
Because of its size, Intel can produce microprocessors in much greater volume and therefore lower cost than rivals such as Sun. IBM itself is planning to produce Itanium-based servers, while Sun has started to use a combination of the open source operating system Linux on Intel at the low end.
Sun is also considered a likely partner for Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) when it produces its Intel clone 64-bit microprocessors, which will be called Athlon at the PC level and Opteron for servers.
Opteron’s key advantage over Intel will be the ease with which workstations and servers can be built – because vendors do not need to use different chipsets for different configurations – and its native support for legacy 32-bit instruction sets, which means that it can run legacy applications faster than Itanium, which only offers a slower emulation mode.
However, Opteron is not scheduled to be released before January 2003.
The July issue of Information Age will be taking an in-depth look at the Itanium technology and its effect on vendors’ and users’ migration strategies. For a free subscription to Information Age, please click here.