Intel's upcoming "Poulson" Itanium processor will offer a new architecture that company officials say will be the foundation for the chip line for years to come.
Intel officials are scheduled to give more details about Poulson during the ISSCC (International Solid-State Circuits Conference), which kicks off Feb. 20 and runs through Feb. 24. They shared some of those details in a conference call with analysts and journalists prior to the show.
Overall, Poulson will offer greater performance, power management and reliability than the current Itanium 9300 processor-code-named "Tukwila"-which began shipping in the first quarter of 2010, according to Rory McInerney, vice president of the Intel Architecture Group and director of the company's Microprocessor Development Group.
At the same time, Poulson will continue Intel's push to create a common platform between the Itanium and Xeon product lines.
"You essentially have one hardware platform, and you have an Itanium platform ... and a Xeon platform," McInerney said during the conference call. "We see both of the products co-existing very nicely."
He declined to say when Poulson will be released, saying only, "I'm comfortable with where it is and we're on schedule." That's an important step for Intel, which saw several delays in the release of Tukwila. Company officials also have begun talking about "Kittsen," the Itanium chip after Poulson.
After more than a decade, Itanium has evolved from Intel's primary push into 64-bit computing to a niche product aimed at high-end, mission-critical workloads, primarily on Hewlett-Packard's Integrity and NonStop servers. They primarily compete with Unix and mainframe systems from the likes of IBM and Oracle.
McInerney said the combination of Itanium and the four- to eight-core Xeon 7500 chips gives Intel a solid one-two punch in the high end of the market. Intel officials last year estimated that 95 percent of servers shipped every year are powered by x86 chips from Intel or rival Advanced Micro Devices. However, the other 5 percent make up about 40 percent of the revenues in the server space, and that is why Intel continues to innovate on Itanium.
Poulson is the latest step in that process and will be the foundation for the next few years of Itanium innovation, McInerney said. The chip will have 3.1 billion transistors (Tukwila has 2 billion), will have eight cores, will offer 54MB of on-die memory and will be pin compatible with the four-core Itanium 9300, he said.
It also will be built on Intel's 32-nanometer manufacturing process. Tukwila is a 65-nm chip.
"We're certainly putting together a design [with Poulson] that will carry us through this decade," McInerney said.
Poulson will offer improvements in RAS (reliability, availability and serviceability) that will enable it to reach mainframe reliability levels, according to Intel. Those improvements center around better error protection and correction, and end-to-end error detection and improved firmware error handling, McInerney said.
Poulson also will feature double the maximum execution width, from six to 12. According to McInerney, this means Poulson will be able to issue up to twice the number of instructions down its execution pipeline than previous Itanium generations.
"The goal of these optimizations is that all applications will get benefit without recompilation," he said in a written response to an e-mailed question following the conference call. "For the end user, this means that we believe we have an architecture that will provide a significant performance benefit for Poulson over the Tukwila implementation and builds a foundation for future Itanium processors."
There will be a 33 percent improvement in bandwidth, thanks to higher bus speeds, he said. Power consumption will be improved via accurate power monitoring and control, enhancements to reduce power leakage, and better DIMM clock gating. Poulson will feature reduced overall socket power consumption.
"It will have a major impact in power management," McInerney said.
In another written response to an e-mailed question, he stressed the relationship between Itanium and Xeon.
"Both Itanium and Xeon platforms deliver outstanding performance and are very complementary," he wrote. "Intel believes that with two different mission-critical platforms, we offer our customers a choice that enables them to best decide what meets their business needs. At this point in the product development cycle, we can't comment on Poulson pricing, but what we can say is that we are looking for the total socket performance to be significantly higher for Poulson than the previous product generation."
Common platform attributes include Intel's QuickPath and Scalable Memory interconnects, chipsets and DDR3 memory.
McInerney said that the Itanium chips remain "further than Xeon in terms of RAS technologies, both from a RAS feature perspective as well as fundamental design hardening, but we will continue to waterfall Itanium RAS features across the Xeon road map."