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Intel Spins Last Single-Core Itaniums

Montecito's availability will likely intensify the battle for control of the mid- and high-end server market, where Itanium has long competed against RISC architectures from IBM, Hewlett-Packard, and Sun Microsystems.
Paving a path towards its upcoming, dual-core Montecito server processor, Intel on Monday unveiled what will be the final single-core upgrades to its Itanium 2 processor family.

"The interesting thing about this announcement is the increased speed of the front-side bus," said Kevin Krewell, editor-in-chief of the Microprocessor Report, in an interview. "It's a progression in bus bandwidth that Intel needs in order to feed Montecito. That will have two cores sharing the same bus, and 400 MHz is just not going to be fast enough."

Specifically, the front-side bus in the two new Itanium 2 processors will run at 667 MHz, enabling 10.6 gigabits of data per second to be transferred between the CPU and its memory and core-logic chipset. The 400 MHz bus on the current Itanium 2 processors supports a maximum rate of 6.4 Gbits of data per second.

"This [667 MHz] provides enough bandwidth for Montecito," added Krewell. "Starting that process now with these devices is a good step in the right direction."

With Montecito already far along in its development at Intel, the new Itanium 2 parts won't have the field to themselves for very long. "Intel will ship its dual-core Itanium processor, codenamed Montecito, later this year and ramp to volume in 2006," Intel spokeswoman Erica Fields said in an interview.

Montecito's availability will likely intensify the battle for control of the mid- and high-end server market, where Itanium has long competed against RISC architectures from IBM, Hewlett-Packard, and Sun Microsystems.

However, the complexion of that market is in the midst of a rapid reshaping. With the release of its PA-8900 processor, HP has reached the end of the line of its PA-RISC architecture and has begun implementing a technology roadmap that calls for it to move all of its mid- and high-end servers to Itanium 2. As for Sun, it will be replacing its UltraSparc with a new architecture under development, called Rock, which isn't expected to be available for approximately two years.

Accordingly, Krewell sees the high-end server space becoming a battleground between two processor architectures. "It's head to head between the [IBM] Power 5 and Itanium," said Krewell. "Those seem to be the two key architectures that are slugging it out right now for supremacy."

Montecito will go a long way toward helping Intel compete better against IBM's Power 5, which has been available as dual-core design for more than a year. "With 24 MB of on-chip cache [26 MB including the L2 cache] and two cores, Montecito is going to be a big-time processor," said Krewell. However, he added that IBM has its own next-generation offerings in the works, in the form of its Power 5+ and Power 6 designs.

As for the two new Itanium 2 parts announced Monday, Hitachi plans to use the processors in its upcoming BladeSymphony servers, according to an Intel statement.

Both of new Itanium 2 devices run at clock speeds of 1.66 GHz; one model comes with 6 MB of cache, the other with 9 MB. The former will sell for $2,194 in quantities of 1,000 or more, the latter for $4,655.