Revamp adds more oomph to a lineup that has sometimes proved trying for the chipmaker.
Intel on Monday updated its Itanium 2 processors, adding a top-end model to a high-end family designed to displace chips from Sun Microsystems and IBM.
As expected, Intel announced a new Itanium 2 with 9MB of high-speed cache memory. The processor runs at 1.6GHz and costs $4,226 per chip in batches of 1,000, the company said.
Also on Monday, Hewlett-Packard and Unisys introduced servers that employ the new processor.
As part of the revamp, Intel released a $530 low-voltage model that doesn't consume as much power or produce as much waste heat as the top-end models. The low-voltage chip is faster than its predecessor, running at 1.3GHz and including 3MB of cache, compared with 1GHz and 1.5GB of cache.
The Itanium line, which began as an HP research project before Intel took it over in the 1990s, has been a trying product for the chipmaker. It was delayed several times and now is only positioned as an alternative to high-end competitors, in contrast to Intel's Xeon, which is built and sold in vastly higher quantities. Santa Clara, Calif.-based Intel said in September that Itanium had failed to meet one of its 2004 goals, which was to double the number of processors shipped from the more than 100,000 of 2003.
But there are some bright spots. Itanium has succeeded in extending Intel's reach to a more rarefied market, where servers have dozens of processors such as Sun's UltraSparc IV and IBM's Power5, prices extend beyond $1 million, and customers are demanding. Abhi Talwalkar, vice president and general manager of the Enterprise Platforms Group at Intel, said the chip family has met a different goal for 2004: Being used in mission-critical systems for more than 40 of the world's 100 largest corporations.
A successor called Montecito is due to enter production in the fourth quarter of 2005, though high-volume manufacturing won't begin until early 2006, Talwalkar said. Montecito has dual-processing engines on each slice of silicon (a design called "dual-core"), and each core can execute two instruction sequences (called "threads").
Montecito will drop into existing Itanium 2 server designs. The chip, though larger, still fits within the 130-watt power envelope of the family, Talwalkar said.
A change planned to debut with Montecito's successor, Tukwila, is an interface called the Common Platform Architecture, or CPA. That interface will also be used for Xeon-based computers, which should lower system-design barriers and Itanium costs, if all goes according to plan.