Intel Debuts Entry-Level Itaniums

The chipmaking giant sizes up its Madison dual possessors against RISC chips and continues to move the family lineup a bit closer to its own x86 Xeon.

Intel Monday released two new Itanium 2 processors designed to fit in entry-level systems and compete with RISC-based chips.

But the 1.60 gigahertz and 1.40GHz -- both with 3MB or L3-cache -- also mark another step in the company's plans to blur the lines between Itanium and Xeon. Intel's two server architectures make up some 85 percent of the server market, according to IDC statistics.

The Santa Clara, Calif.-based chip making giant said the Itanium "Madison" chips are designed primarily for front-end applications and to sit in front of existing Itanium 2-based systems in large scale deployments such as high-performance clusters.

Already Intel counts carmaker Audi and financial firm First Trust Corp. as early converts who switched from rival IBM POWER chips and Sun Microsystems SPARC processors. Intel said it also has some 50 OEMs ready to install the chips including IBM, HP and Dell as well as international partners like Founder, Itautec, Kraftway, LangChao, Lenovo, Maxdata, Rackable and RackSaver. The 1.40GHz with 3 MB of cache is available for $1,172 in 1,000-unit quantities. It's 1.60GHz cousin is slated for a May 2004 release for $2,408.

The company is also touting the two chips as relatively inexpensive replacements with some systems starting at $2,100, while fully packed rack systems are expected to show up on OEM product lists for about $8,000.

Compare that to 2002, when the company debuted Itanium 2. At the time, an Itanium chipset would set customers back some $18,000 per platform, the company said. An Intel spokesperson said the company is also working on making the Itanium available for blade servers by the second quarter of this year.

"For some applications, the performance that you get on transaction performance might be a better price performance metric on Itanium," Jason Waxman, Intel director of multi-platform marketing, told internetnews.com.

The Itanium 2 processor family is targeted at enterprise servers and technical computing clusters while the Intel Xeon processor family is largely used for general purpose IT infrastructure.

While the usage lines for the two chips are relatively clear, the price drops combined with the speed bumps are part of Intel's master plan of blurring the lines. The idea is to make Itanium 2-based systems twice as fast as Xeon servers for the same system cost by 2007, starting with its Tukwila chips. The common ground for the two processors will be front-end edge and mid-tier enterprise servers.

"In the next few years, system manufacturers will be able to design an Itanium 2 processor and Intel Xeon processor-based system using the same low cost components," Richard Dracott, Intel general manager of Enterprise Marketing and Planning said in a statement. "Every product and technology we roll out moves us one step closer to a common system with common infrastructure costs."

Intel's roadmap for Itanium is fairly aggressive. The company is slated to launch six different server processors this year alone. Next year, companies said its first dual-core Itanium 2 processor, code-named "Montecito," is due in 2005, and will be supported by Intel's third-generation chipset, code-named "Bayshore." The chipset supports PCI Express and double data-rate (DDR2) memory.

Unfortunately for the company, sales of Itanium have been sputtering. Last November, Intel COO Paul Otellini said the company is on track to ship 100,000 units by the end of 2003 and about 300,000 by the end of 2005.






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