Multithreading, 24MB Cache in Itanium 2s Future

By Jeffrey Burt  |  Posted 2003-11-14

Multithreading, 24MB Cache in Itanium 2s Future

Intel Corp. will introduce multithreading capability and a massive 24MB Level 3 cache on the Itanium 2 processor due out in 2005.

Code-named Montecito, the dual-core chips cache size will dwarf that of the current Itanium 2 chip—which has 6MB of cache—and the 9MB due out on Itanium 2 next year, according to Lisa Graff, director of enterprise processor marketing for the Santa Clara, Calif., chip maker.

In an interview with eWEEK, Graff said what will enable the cache size and multithreading capabilities will be the more than 1 billion transistors that Intel will be able to place on the chip, which will be manufactured through the companys 90-nanometer process.

Technology used with Montecito—including a Register Stack Engine that does not require data to be sent to memory as workloads are processed, and flexible memory ordering that will reduce the amount of time waiting for data to be processed through memory—will enable the 64-bit chip to keep data on the processor. That is particularly important with a multicore chip as more people are trying to access memory despite limitations on the bandwidth interconnect, she said.

"Itanium as an architecture is optimized for multicore," Graff said.

Graff and other Intel officials are touting what they say are significant advances in the 3-year-old architecture over the past year, particularly with the release in June of Itanium 2 6M, which was code-named Madison. In the second half of the year, the industry began seeing the adoption of Itanium crossing over from the high-performance computing space into the enterprise, fueled by a domino effect that began with Microsoft Corp.s release of Windows Server 2003 in the spring, she said.

The top software makers released versions of their heavy-duty enterprise products—such as the database makers like Oracle Corp. with 9i and Microsoft with SQL Server—all tuned for Windows Server 2003, and all tuned for Itanium. Once those major back-end applications were 64-bit ready, businesses were more willing to make the switch to Itanium, Graff said.

Next page: Over a thousand apps supporting Itanium.

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In addition, there will be more than 1,000 applications supporting Itanium by the end of the year, and 1,500 by the middle of 2004, she said. The development of the software ecosystem around the architecture will be key to the adoption of Itanium, particularly as it tries to take business away from the more established RISC-based systems, such as those sold by Sun Microsystems Inc., of Santa Clara, Calif., and Armonk, N.Y.-based IBM. Graff said that represents 10 percent—or about 500,000 systems—of the total server market.

OEMs also are beginning to roll out more Itanium-based systems. Hewlett-Packard Co., which co-developed Itanium and is standardizing its high-end 64-bit server line on the chip, earlier this month introduced three new systems in its Itanium-based Integrity line—a four-way, an eight-way and a 16-way system—that complement the companys 64-way Superdome. This week, IBM unveiled its eServer xSeries 455 Itanium system, which can scale from four to 16 processors.

In addition, other major vendors, including Dell Inc., NEC Corp., Unisys Corp. and SGI, offer Itanium systems of various sizes, as do several smaller systems makers.

Itanium is facing its stiffest challenge from Advanced Micro Devices Inc. and its 64-bit Opteron processor. Officials with the Sunnyvale, Calif., company say that a key differentiator is that Opteron is built on the x86 architecture, and can run 32-bit and 64-bit applications, giving enterprises an easier migration path to 64-bit computing.

Read "AMD Details its Processor Roadmap."

With Madison, Intel introduced the IA-32 Execution Layer, designed to enable Itanium to also run 32-bit applications, but at the relative performance of a Pentium 4 chip.

The technology hit a snag earlier this month when Microsoft pushed back to the second half of 2004 the release of a software update that would have included the emulation layer, which would have improved the performance of 32-bit Windows applications on Itanium-powered systems.

Graff said the emulation layer software is ready to go, and that Intel officials now are exploring other options for getting it onto the market. They would have preferred to ship it out with operating systems—it was scheduled to be released with the launch of Windows Server 2003 Service Pack 1—but dont want to wait until the second half of next year. Alternatives include having Microsoft, of Redmond, Wash., shipping the software separately or having the OEMs ship it with their systems.

Officials hope to have a plan in place by next month, she said.

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