Intel Findings Show Itanium 2 Beats Sun Server in Performance

Intel Corp. says its upcoming 1ghz Itanium 2 chip will outperform Sun Microsystems Inc.'s yet-to-be-released 1GHz UltraSPARC III, based on Intel's own estimates, and will deliver twice the performance of the chip's predecessor.

Intel Corp. says its upcoming 1ghz Itanium 2 chip will outperform Sun Microsystems Inc.s yet-to-be-released 1GHz UltraSPARC III, based on Intels own estimates, and will deliver twice the performance of the chips predecessor.

At the Intel Developers Forum in Munich, Germany, last week, the chip maker offered the most details released to date on its next-generation processor, due this summer. Code-named McKinley, Itanium 2 is viewed as Intels first true threat to take market share away from high-end Unix vendors such as market leaders Sun and IBM.

In addition to performance, Intel contends its Itanium systems will cost less than offerings from Sun and IBM, a selling point noted by system managers.

"Were looking at problems with large data sets, and this appears to be an inexpensive approach to tackling those problems compared to alternative solutions," said Mahlon Stacy, system administrator for Mayo Foundation Medical Science, in Rochester, Minn.

The findings released by Intel show that in a comparison focusing on Internet-based commerce, a two-processor Itanium 2 server prototype running the RSA SSL-C benchmark performed 1,440 secure transactions per second, nearly three times the performances of an eight-CPU UltraSPARC III server.

In addition, looking at large database and transaction processing, Intel estimates a four-chip Itanium 2 system will support 50 percent more transactions per minute than a comparable UltraSPARC III system. Furthermore, in high-performance scientific and technical computing, a four- processor Itanium 2 system running the MP Linkpack 10K benchmark achieved a performance of more than 13 gigaflops, nearly double the performance of a comparable UltraSPARC III system.

The results, however, should be viewed with skepticism, given that official benchmarks wont be available until computer makers submit their Itanium 2 systems for third-party testing.

"They are definitely playing to their strengths and highlighting the benchmarks they do well at," said Kevin Krewell, an analyst with In-Stat/MDR, in Sunnyvale, Calif. "But some of the benchmarks really require full systems tests, so performance will be impacted by the type and amount of memory, hard drives, etc."

Krewell also noted that Intel, of Santa Clara, Calif., avoided comparisons with IBMs Power4, widely considered to be the highest-performing 64-bit chip on the market.

An Intel spokeswoman said the company focused on Sun because its the leading seller of 64-bit systems.

Sun said Intels estimates dont reflect real-world performance, contending the benchmarks run on Itanium 2 would easily fit into the chips large 3MB Level 3 on-die cache. The UltraSPARC III relies on external cache and is designed to address the demands of heftier business applications, said officials with the Palo Alto, Calif., company.

Even though Itanium is a relatively new chip, having been released last year, the processors impact is already being felt.