New Intel Itanium Offers Greater Performance, Memory Capacity

By Jeffrey Burt  |  Posted 2010-02-08

New Intel Itanium Offers Greater Performance, Memory Capacity

It took a little longer than expected, but Intel officials have finally released "Tukwila," the next-generation Itanium processor that offers significant advances in performance and scalability and a host of features that improve everything from virtualization capabilities to reliability.

A week after announcing that the company had begun shipping Tukwila-now called the Itanium 9300 series-Intel officials on Feb. 8 officially released the processor, which had been delayed several times over the past couple of years.

However, in the end what businesses will be getting when systems powered by the new Itaniums roll out in the next three months are chips with 2 billion transistors, double the number of cores-from two to four over the current "Montecito" chips-that can run eight instruction threads each, an 800 percent improvement in interconnect bandwidth, 500 percent more memory bandwidth and up to 700 percent more memory capacity.

At a news conference announcing the release, Kirk Skaugen, vice president of the Intel Architecture Group and general manager of the vendor's Data Center Group, admitted that Tukwila had been a long time coming, but said businesses would see that it was worth the wait.

"We know there were a few delays over the years, but we felt it was better to get this right for those mission-critical customers, and we think we have," Skaugen said.

He added, "We're showing a road map that's ... better than our competitors'."

The 9300 series is coming as competition in the high-end server market begins to ramp up. At the same time that Intel was unveiling the new Itaniums, IBM at an event in New York was announcing systems running its new Power7 platform, with IBM officials predicting that more Hewlett-Packard customers will migrate off their Itanium-based technologies to Power7.

In addition, Oracle, on the strength of its $7.4 billion acquisition of Sun Microsystems, is promising to pump more marketing and R&D dollars into Sun's SPARC/Solaris platform.

Skaugen and Martin Fink, senior vice president and general manager of HP's Business Critical Systems unit, said they expect adoption of Itanium to continue to grow.

"More and more and more, as systems become more powerful, customers have raised their expectations of what they want from these systems," Fink said, adding that the systems become more mission-critical as more workloads are placed on them.

Skaugen said some businesses started receiving seed systems with Tukwila in the first half of 2009, "so we expect a very fast ramp."

Itanium 9300 Series Brings New Features

The Itanium 9300 series comes with a number of new features, including several that it now shares with Intel's upcoming x86 Xeon "Nehalem EX" processors, a move officials said will give customers greater value and flexibility and will fuel greater innovation.

Among those features are the QuickPath Interconnect, the Scalable Memory Interconnect, and the Intel 7500 Scalable Memory Buffer and I/O hub. The Scalable Memory Buffer helps the chip take better advantage of DDR 3 (double data rate 3) memory. Intel made the move from fully buffered DIMMs (dual in-line memory modules) to DDR3 memory, which delayed the release of Tukwila for about a year.

For greater energy efficiency, the new Itanium chips also have an enhanced form of Demand-Based Switching, which can reduce the power consumption when utilization is low, and Intel's Turbo Boost technology, which enables users to scale the power to individual cores up or down. That feature also is found in Intel's x86 processors.

The Tukwila chips also use the second generation of Intel's Virtualization Technology, and the vendor's 7500 chip set can assign networking devices to virtual machines.

HP's Fink said the new Itaniums coupled with features that HP offers in its servers will feed into HP's converged infrastructure push, in which resources such as computing, storage, networking and applications can be allocated as needed. The key for HP, he said, is the company's ability to offer products in all those areas.

"We're the only vendor in position to do that," Fink said.

Scalability will be key, and customers that currently are running older Itanium chips or HP's PA-RISC processors will see a 40 percent boost in performance in systems with the Itanium processors, he said.

HP is by a large margin the top buyer of Intel's Itanium chips-primarily for its Integrity and NonStop servers-and the company will roll out new Tukwila-powered systems within three months, Fink said. He declined to give details.

Finks shrugged off questions about Tukwila's delays on HP. "We certainly weren't happy about it, but it wasn't a critical setback," he said.

The HP-UX operating system is run in 85 percent of all Itanium systems, according to Intel.

Several other vendors also have announced support for the Itanium 9300 series. Supermicro is readying four-socket Itanium systems that it will sell to white-box makers, and Red Hat said Red Hat Enterprise Linux Version 5 will support Tukwila. The Red Hat support is important, particularly given the company's earlier decision to cancel the support due to frustration over the delays.

Skaugen said Intel is now on track to release a new version of Itanium every two years. Up next is "Poulson," which he said will double the number of cores, improve hyper-threading capabilities and offer greater reliability features. It also will be built on Intel's 32-nanometer manufacturing process. Tukwila is a 65-nm chip.

Two years later will come "Kittson," he said. Skaugen stressed the binary and socket compatibility Poulson and Kittson will have with Tukwila.

Much of what delayed Tukwila-such the shift to DDR 3 memory and the closer working situation for Intel engineers in Oregon and Massachusetts-has been dealt with, Skaugen said, adding that Intel is confident in its road map.

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