New Itanium Chips to Debut Next Week

Intel is expected to invigorate its troubled Itanium family next week with a batch of new “Madison” processors.

Intel is preparing to announce several versions of its ‘Madison’ designs for high-performance computing environments.

Sources familiar with the company told the chip making giant will debut three versions of its Intel Itanium 2 IA-64 processor: a multi-processor (MP); a dual-processor code-named Fanwood (DP); and a low voltage processor (LV) code-named Deerfield. Each will come with 9Mb of L3 cache.

Previous versions released this summer supported 6Mb. The chips are designed for back-end servers in high-performance computing environments.

The Santa Clara, Calif.-based company issued an invitation late Thursday suggesting it would unveil new high-end server products during a Webcast Monday.

The announcement also coincides with the highly anticipated Top500 report of the world’s most powerful computing systems. Intel is expected to make a showing with its Itanium family somewhere in the Top 10.

The latest Madison refresh is expected to be the last of the Itanium chips processed at the 1.3-micron level. Starting in 2005, all future Itaniums will be dual- or multi-core architectures and manufactured using the 90-nanometer process under the code-name Montecito. The next-generation chip will have 1.7 billion transistors, each allowing for multiple CPU cores and 24 MB of cache memory.

The new multi-core CPUs due Monday are expected to be released at speeds of 1.5Ghz with 4Mb L3, 1.6Ghz with 6Mb L3 and 1.7Ghz with 9Mb L3. The Fanwood Itanium is a cut down dual processor that should feature a 400Mhz front side bus and 3Mb of L3 cache. The first CPU is expected to be released at 1.6Ghz, with the Deerfield low-voltage version also being released running at 1.3Ghz. Prices were not disclosed.

Intel has focused on capturing the higher-end business for servers because Itanium chips sell for as much as 10 times the price of the Pentium 4 used in PCs.

The vendor seems optimistic about this last round of Madison chips, as the company recently reported 10 times as many server shipments during the past year with three times the revenue. The company also boasts that 38 of the world’s best 100 companies use Itanium, including cereal maker General Mills and beauty product maker Procter & Gamble.

Earlier this year, many of the top 500 corporations were approached with a free trial period to “try-and-buy” its Intel Itanium processors. The “Madison” chips compete with other high-end processors such as IBM’s Power5
series and Sun Microsystems’ UltraSPARC.

But even with recent momentum, Intel has been quick to point out that its Itanium is not selling as well as it could in the short term, and its Xeon family is under pressure to deliver not only dual-core architectures but also show performance gains with its Intel Extended Memory 64 Technology
(Intel EM64T).

The company has also lost momentum with Itanium after it officially abandoned its third-generation chipset, code-named “Bayshore.” Even though the processor add-on supported PCI Express and double data-rate (DDR2) memory, the company shelved the hardware in a drive toward a common architecture between Xeon and Itanium.

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