Intel Readies Next Itanium Processor

The latest Itanium chip is designed with four cores and uses two billion transistors.

While Intel is focusing most of its energy on its line of microprocessors for laptops and other portable devices for the first half of 2008, the Santa Clara, Calif., company is quietly preparing the way for its high-performance computing chips.

At the 2008 International Solid State Circuits Conference, which starts Feb. 3 in San Francisco, Intel engineers will discuss its upcoming Itanium processor, code-named Tukwila, which has four processing cores and contains two billion transistors.

While Intel's history of delivering new Itanium processors has been checkered with problems, the company has signaled that it's committed to bringing new Itanium chips to the market through 2010. In October, Intel launched the Itanium 9100 series and Tukwila is expected to hit the market by the end of this year.

The new Tukwila chip will be the first Itanium processor to offer four cores and will have an initial clock speed of 2GHz. The chip will also support up to eight instructional threads and have 30MB of on-die cache, said Justin Rattner, an Intel senior fellow and the company's chief technology officer.

The new Itanium processor will be built on the company's 65-nanometer manufacturing process and will also be one of the first Intel chips to use the company's QuickPath interconnect technology-an integrated memory controller. (Advanced Micro Devices already uses an integrated memory controller with its x86 Opteron processors.)

When Tukwila does come to the market, Rattner said that it will offer two times the performance of the current 9100 series, which offers a top clock speed of 1.66GHz and a front-side bus of 667MHz. Tukwila will work within a 130-watt thermal envelope compared with the 104-watt envelope of the current Itanium series.

Nathan Brookwood, an analyst with Insight 64, said the fact that Tukwila will offer two times the performance in the same thermal envelope and for about the same price as the current crop of Itanium chips should be a major consideration for IT departments and buyers when the chip hits the market later this year.

"Itanium has been confined to a niche at the high end of the market and is really for those users that need scalability and reliability, and Tukwila has been designed to address both of those issues more than the previous Itanium processors," said Brookwood, adding that the four cores, large cache size and the on-board memory controller create a chip that is better designed, for example, than a high-end, four-way system.

While Tukwila will be able to boast of more features, Rattner said the core microarchitecture of the chip will remain the same as the previous generation of Itanium.

"When it came to the design of the processor, the team believes that they are better off targeting mature technology, in this case 65-nanometer, instead of going for the leading edge with 45-nanometer," Rattner said. "The microarchitecture [of Tukwila] is essentially the same as the microarchitecture used with the 90-nanometer, but we have redesigned the chip for 65-nanometer."

Intel introduced its first 45-nanometer Penryn family of processors in November.

In the high-end server space, Intel's Itanium competes with IBM's Power processors and Sun Microsystems' UltraSPARC chips. At the 2008 ISSCC, Sun is expected to detail its next-generation UltraSPARC processor, called "Rock," which will have 16 processing cores, 32 instructional threads and a clock speed of 2.3GHz.