What’s all the excitement about?
Intel’s Itanium 2, known pre-launch as McKinley, is said to be a revolutionary product as it is the first 64-bit offering from the chip giant that can be used in multiples of 64 in a server. This puts it in the same league as high-end Sun SPARC processors and those IBM puts in some of its biggest computers.

Tell me more…
The chip took seven years to develop, is two years overdue and is said to have the support of 25 partners. Indeed, it is the long awaited successor to its less favoured brother Itanium (it didn’t sell well) and even comes in a variety of speeds.

Go on…
Users have the choice of either 900MHz or 1GHz. These then come in three versions: 900MHz with 1.5MB of cache memory, 1GHZ with 1.5MB or 1GHz with 3MB. Prices are dependent on performance but range from $1,900 for 900MHz to $4,200 with 3MB.

In volumes of 1,000?
In volumes of 1,000.

But are many vendors tempted by this?
Intel generally has a line of the top server vendors lined up behind it but Dell is sitting firmly on the fence over this one. Oracle gave it the thumbs up and has launched database management software that supports the high-speed chip. However, things didn’t go quite so smoothly for Compaq. The processor proved too much for its Proliant 590/64 which fell over during internal tests thanks to a broken BIOS. Intel fixed the fault and Compaq said things went a lot better the second time around.

But what will happen now that Compaq has been swallowed by HP?
Compaq had already started to discontinue its Alpha-based server line in favour of Itanium. The plan had been to introduce it over seven or eight years. But since HP is the co-developer of Itanium and the company merged the Compaq server line with its own, expect HP to be completely an Itanium house.

No mention of Sun Microsystems or IBM servers so far…
Well there wouldn’t be as Sun is sticking with the rival UltraSparc III and IBM generally favours its Power4 for processing 64-bit chunks of data. Sun says its UltraSparc III can reach 1.2GHz and has recently given a preview of future generations boosting that. By version V the chip will run beyond 3GHz. The advantage of Sun’s servers is that there is an ample amount of high-end software, unlike Itanium 2 which suffers from a lack of proven tools.

Are there any other alternatives?
You could always try AMD’s forthcoming Hammer chips which will sell under the name of Opteron and Athlon. Analysts claim these are cheaper and easier to adopt because much of the software needed already exists. Taiwan’s Via has agreed to manufacture the chipsets making it easier for vendors to obtain components. Via will start shipping at the end of the year.

Essential links
From the silicon.com archive
HP readies Itanium part two
goes server crazy

External links