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Intel upgrades server processors

Posted: 03 Jul 2003 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:intel? itanium 2 processor? processor? 130nm process technology? madison chip?

Intel Corp. has started to ship its first Itanium 2 processor to be made in the company's 130nm process technology. The so-called Madison chip hits 1.5GHz speeds and packs 6MB of integrated level three cache.

Madison will provide 30 to 50 percent performance boost over the existing 1GHz, 3MB L3 cache McKinley chip, said Jason Waxman, director of multiprocessor platform marketing at Intel. The numbers suggest Intel is seeing significant but diminishing returns on its strategy of winding up clock speeds and cache.

The launch was an expected milestone of the road map for three bus-compatible CPUs the company laid out more than a year ago as part of its decade-long push to establish the 64-bit Itanium it co-developed with Hewlett-Packard. Madison will bolster the relatively slow uptake the Very Long Instruction Word (VLIW) architecture has faced in the server market to date, said Kevin Krewell, senior editor of The Microprocessor Report.

Madison is "a solid offering, very competitive with the RISC CPUs and HP is very committed to it. Intel and HP have invested billions in the Itanium architecture between them," said Krewell. Computer makers are only expected to sell about 32,000 Itanium systems in 2003, valued at about $722 million, according to International Data Corp.

Itanium has been hampered by its large die size, high power consumption and relatively poor performance on 32-bit x86 software to date, areas Intel is addressing with its latest products.

Later this year Intel will debut Deerfield, a low-power version of the Itanium 2 expected to have peak power consumption of about 65W, half that of the McKinley and Madison chips. The lower power figures should help the chip gain design wins in rack-mounted servers and server blades. Deerfield, also known as Low Voltage Itanium, will run at 1GHz, have 1.5MB L3 cache and be based on the 130nm technology.

Intel also plans to release to OS developers before the end of the year a so-called IA-32 execution layer software to translate x86 binary code into native Itanium code. The software would be available for Windows and Linux and ship as part of the OS. The software layer could provide up to a 2 times the speed increase on Itanium for some x86 applications, Waxman said.

Krewell estimates the die size of Madison will be about 380mm?, down from 418mm? for its predecessor McKinley.

At the high end, Intel said it will roll out next year a version of the Itanium 2 with the same processor bus but using 9MB L3.

Intel said it will support multi-threading in the Itanium line, but has not yet detailed when or how. Because the 256-register VLIW architecture essentially requires the entire machine to switch between threads and to provide a duplicate bank of registers, "you might as well build two CPUs," as provide a multi-threaded Itanium, said Krewell.

That's essentially what Intel is planning for 2005 when it launches its dual-core Montecito version of Itanium made in a 90nm process.

A multi-threaded Itanium is not expected to come until after Montecito. Intel acquired the Alpha CPU design team from Compaq two years ago, a team that had been developing an aggressive multi-threaded Alpha processor.

Earlier this year, Sun Microsystems Inc. leapfrogged Intel and IBM when it announced plans for a multicore, multi-threaded CPU handling as many as 32 threads. Sun said it will ship that chip, called Niagara, in 2005.

Krewell said the Niagara chip could outshine all contenders in mainstream Web serving jobs, while Intel focuses Itanium on jobs such as running large databases and high performance computing applications. "The thing I question is how widespread will Itanium become given its increasing focus on the small but profitable high-end of the market," Krewell said.

The 1.5GHz, 6MB L3 Itanium 2 costs $4,226 in thousands. A version running at 1.4GHz with 4MB L3 costs $2,247.

Separately, Intel has ratcheted up the speed on its multiprocessing-enabled 32-bit Xeon CPUs from 2GHz to 2.8GHz. A 2.8GHz Xeon MP with 2MB L3 cache costs $3,692 in thousands. A version running at 2.6 GHz with 1MB L3 costs $1,980.

Early next year, Intel will roll out an upgraded Xeon dubbed Gallatin with 4MB L3 cache.

- Rick Merritt

EE Times

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