Itanium Gets Back on the Horse

eWEEK Labs Review: The dual-core Itanium 2 shows promise in an HP server, but doesn't destroy its rivals.

The beleaguered Itanium platform is getting yet another chance to prove its stuff. eWEEK Labs tests of a server based on the newest Itanium 2 platform show promise but also limitations.

Five years ago, when Intel and Hewlett-Packard released the first IA-64 processor—developed under the code name Merced and ultimately branded Itanium—the chip was unable to match the price relative to performance of x86-based machines running the same applications.

Many iterations of the platform followed.

In July, Intel released the dual-core Itanium 2 processor, formerly code-named Montecito, and announced that the new chip is capable of double the performance of its predecessor while consuming 20 percent less electrical power.

Intel is hoping that the Itanium 2 processor will compete better against other high-end server chips, including Sun Microsystems UltraSPARC IV+ and IBMs Power5+, both of which have been available with dual-core capabilities for a few years. The Itanium 2 also faces competition from new dual-core x86 chips from Intel and Advanced Micro Devices.

/zimages/6/28571.gifTo read about Itaniums comeback as a platform, click here.

To see firsthand how well the dual-core Itanium 2 processor performs, eWEEK Labs asked HP to send one of its new Itanium 2-based Integrity servers for testing in our lab. (While HP began work on what would eventually become Itanium, it dropped its Itanium development efforts in 2004, allowing Intel to continue on its own to design higher-performance versions of the processor.)

HP sent us an Integrity rx3600 server, an entry-class two-socket Itanium 2-based system built for application and database workloads.

Our review unit was equipped with Intels 1.6GHz dual-core Itanium 9040 processor with an 18MB of Level 3 cache (9MB per core), 4GB of DDR2 (double-data-rate 2) RAM and a 73GB SAS (serial-attached SCSI) hard drive. In this configuration, the server costs $12,500.

For $10,500, a minimally configured Integrity rx3600 comes armed with Intels 1.42GHz dual-core Itanium 2 9020 processor with a 12MB of L3 cache (6MB per core), 4GB of DDR2 RAM and one 73GB SAS hard drive. When Intel released the Itanium 2 9020 and the Itanium 2 9030 processors, it also released three other processors: the 1.6GHz Itanium 2 9050 processor with 24MB of L3 cache; the 1.6GHz Itanium 2 9030 processor with 8MB of L3 cache; and the 1.4GHz Itanium 2 9015 processor with 12MB of L3 cache.

The system we tested came with HP-UX 11i Version 2 installed. The Integrity rx3600 also is certified to run Microsofts Windows Server 2003 Enterprise Edition, Red Hats RHEL (Red Hat Enterprise Linux) AS/ES 4, Novells SLES (SUSE Linux Enterprise Server) 10 and HPs OpenVMS Version 8.3.

Our server came configured in a 7-inch server rack form factor and measured 6.8 inches high by 17.32 inches wide by 27.4 inches deep. The rx3600 also can be configured in a stand-alone form factor that measures 20.2 inches high by 8.5 inches wide by 27.4 inches deep. The server can be configured with one or two power supplies (one required, one optional), and it has six hot-plug fans that are configured in three redundant pairs.

The Integrity rx3600 has a large internal storage capacity, with eight disk bays supporting 73GB of hot-swappable SAS hard disk drives. Later in 2006, the overall capacity will be doubled with the introduction of 146GB disks.

/zimages/6/28571.gifIs "Montecito" Intels second chance for success with Itanium? Click here to read more.

The server we tested has eight PCI-X slots available, and HP plans to introduce a PCI-Express option later this year that will allow IT managers to run a mixed PCI-X and PCI-Express backplane.

While our server had a bare-bones 4GB of RAM, the Integrity rx3600 has a memory footprint of up to 96GB of RAM. The servers storage, RAM and processors combine to make the rx3600 a good bet for compute- and data-intensive applications, such as databases, and for technical and mathematical applications with high floating points.

Intel officials have said the Itanium 2 processors EPIC (Explicitly Parallel Instruction Computing) architecture was designed to provide high levels of parallelism and computational capabilities to allow applications such as business intelligence and analytical software to operate more efficiently. During tests, we found the Integrity rx3600 to be worthy of consideration by IT managers for business analytics and large data warehouses.

The Integrity rx3600 provides a good set of management tools, including HPs Systems Insight Manager, Integrity Essentials and Integrated Lights-Out remote management. The latter enabled us to power the server on and off using the LAN.

The server also will be a good bet for IT organizations interested in leveraging virtualization. Secure resource partitions will allow IT managers to ensure security among virtualized applications, and the server comes with Global Workload Manager, a data center utility that works across virtual and physical servers.

However, the Itanium 2-based Integrity rx3600 lags behind x86 machines in terms of application support. More than 8,000 applications now can be run on the Itanium platform, but many of the applications that commonly run on x86 machines still are not available. These include such biggies as Microsofts Exchange Server 2003 for Itanium-based systems.

Senior Writer Anne Chen can be reached at

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