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Intel Tukwilla processor packs QuickPath, DDR3 links

Posted: 10 Feb 2010 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Intel Tukwilla? processor? DDR3? memory buffer?

After two years of delays, Intel Corp. has released its Itanium server processor and re-drawn the roadmap for its only chip not to use an x86 core. The Itanium 9300, aka Tukwilla, now includes Intel's QuickPath Interconnect (QPI) and links to DDR3 memory.

The chip was originally designed to link to fully-buffered (FB) DIMMs. But Intel has dropped plans to use FB-DIMMs for its Xeon and Itanium servers CPUs, opting instead to use DDR3 and with new external memory buffer chips designed by Intel.

"That entire memory buffer chip didn't exist a year ago and now it's a core part of the architecture," said Kirk Skaugen, general manager of Intel's data center group.

The switch to DDR3 caused a year delay in releasing Tukwilla, he added. The last time Intel released an Itanium chip was in 2007.

The Tukwilla announcement came the same day Intel and archrival Advanced Micro Devices Inc. sparred with competing 32nm CPU papers at the International Solid State Circuits Conference (ISSCC). Intel focused on its Westmere server and desktop processors while AMD talked about part of its Llano core at ISSCC.

Itanium was co-developed by Intel and Hewlett-Packard as a successor to the x86. However, Intel found ways to continue a compatible line of x86 processors, so the two companies directed Itanium at high-end servers beyond the reach of the x86, a lucrative target for both companies.

HP's HP-UX OS is now used in 85 percent of all Itanium systems, said Skaugen. Bull, Hitachi and NEC also ship Itanium systems.

With the Tukwilla launch, Supermicro said it will also start selling four-processor Itanium systems to white box OEMs. Inspur, a system maker in China, has started shipping systems to users in China's Ministry of Science and Technology.

In another sign the Itanium ecosystem is getting a booster shot, Red Hat has announced its version 5 software will support Tukwilla. The company cancelled support of Itanium during the Tukwilla delays.

HP said it will announced Tukwilla systems within 90 days. Presumably they will include 64-processor Superdome systems using HP homegrown node controller ASICs.

With Tukwilla, Itanium and x86-based Xeon processors from Intel now use in common the QPI processor interconnect as well as I/O and memory buffer chips. HP would not say if it will design a single node controller spanning high-end Xeon and Itanium systems or whether it will continue to make its own Itanium I/O chips.

"You can expect to see eight Xeon-based systems in the eight socket or greater space, and you can expect that part of this fact is due to the heavy R&D reuse" possible between Tukwilla and Xeon systems, said Skaugen.

The Tukwilla processor includes four dual-threaded Itanium cores, up to 24Mbyte cache and a memory controller. It runs at data rates up to 1.73GHz and sells for $946 to $3,838 depending on configuration and quantity.

Intel will follow up the 65nm Tukwilla with a 32nm version dubbed Poulson in two years. Intel had few details about the chip expect that it will have more cores, enhancements to its threading and instructions and a larger cache.

About two years after Poulson, Intel plans a follow on called Kittson. However, Intel would reveal no details about that chip. Both will fit into the Tukwilla socket, use DDR3 and be binary compatible with Tukwilla, Skaugen said.

Skaugen claimed in the first three quarters of 2009, Itanium sales passed those of Sun Sparc systems. However, Sun was under a cloud for most of 2009, awaiting European Commission approval for its merger with Oracle.

High end server sales generally slumped in 2009 with Itanium sales falling from $5 billion to $4 billion, but taking a larger portion of the overall server pie as RISC and x86 server sales fell at a faster rate, said Skaugen.

- Rick Merritt
EE Times

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