Intel Announces 64-bit x86 Chips, Repositions Itanium

The company plans 64-bit x86 server and workstation processor, providing a power boost for the favorite Linux platform.
SAN FRANCISCO - Intel chief executive officer Craig Barrett sketched out the company's plans to start delivering 64-bit x86 server and workstation processors this year in his keynote at the Intel Developer Forum here Tuesday (Feb 17). As part of the move, he repositioned the 64-bit Itanium CPU co-developed with Hewlett-Packard as a database processor.

Intel will deliver in the middle of the year Nacona, a 64-bit Pentium 4 Xeon processor geared for two-way servers. Later in the year, it will release a 64-bit version of Prescott for high-end desktops and workstations using a single processor. Next year, Intel will release multiprocessor-capable version of its 64-bit Xeon.

Barrett went to lengths to demonstrate the Itanium line will continue to have a role, albeit primarily as a back-end processor for running applications such as large databases. His keynote included presentations from end users including Wall Street analysts Morgan Stanley saying they will use both 64-bit Xeon and Itanium systems.

Microsoft chief executive Steve Ballmer said in a videotaped presentation that Microsoft has released a beta version of its 64-bit Windows for Extended x86 Systems. That OS will support both the new Intel chips and Advanced Micro Devices' 64-bit Opteron and Athlon CPUs.

Intel executives were deliberately vague about the extent to which the new Intel extensions were compatible with the AMD extensions released in 2000. However, Intel did say its Nacona processor would also include enhancements to its multimedia instruction extensions, another area where AMD and Intel have diverging chip implementations.

"This is better than 3DNow," said Mike Fister, general manager of Intel's server group, referring to the AMD multimedia extensions in Athlon and Opteron.

"The big databases have already been converted over to Itanium, and they will be on Itanium forever," Fister added.

"IBM solutions, based on Intel's new Xeon with 64-bit extensions, will provide customers a seamless transition to the next generation of enterprise computing, while protecting their existing infrastructure investments," said Susan Whitney, General Manager, IBM eServer xSeries. "IBM will incorporate Intel's 64-bit extension technology, when it becomes available, into our products."

Analysts said they expect Itanium to have a long future, despite its rather narrow new positioning. Nathan Brookwood of Insight64 (Saratoga, Calif.) said Intel ultimately could capture with Itanium up to 2.5 million sockets/year in high-end servers. By contrast, Sun Microsystems' Sparc processor probably only ships about one million units a year, he estimated.

Barrett said Intel sold about 110,000 Itaniums in 2003 and is ramping up. Intel and HP once hoped the Itanium line would be the successor to the x86 which goes into more than 100 million systems a year.

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