Itanium 2: Power Play

One of the first servers based on Intel's chip, the HP Server RX2600 shows potential for computation-heavy tasks.

One of the first servers based on the Itanium 2 processor, Hewlett-Packard Co.s HP Server RX2600 illustrates that the Itanium 2 will be a boon for database and security applications, among other computation-intensive tasks. However, its too early to predict whether the architecture will be a commercial success.

While the initial 64-bit Itanium chip was intended to serve mainly as a development platform, the Itanium 2 is targeted at production environments. Itanium 2-based servers such as the HP Server RX2600, which eWeek Labs tested exclusively, will be well-suited to applications that require large amounts of floating-point calculations and rely heavily on memory caching for performance.

Likely markets for Itanium 2-based systems will be security, where the Itanium 2 should work well for encryption/decryption tasks, and the scientific community, for computation-intensive applications.

The database market is another place where the Itanium 2 has great potential. It will be very interesting later this year to see if Oracle Corp.s and Microsoft Corp.s Itanium 2-optimized database servers will be able to leverage the processor to deliver performance better than that on IA-32 systems or better price/performance compared with existing 64-bit products running on Sun Microsystems Inc. or IBM hardware.

The HP Server RX2600 is expected to ship next month, running Windows Advanced Server Limited Edition (which is built from the .Net code base), Linux or HP-UX 11i.

The core of the HP Server RX2600 is twin Itanium 2 processors, each running at 1GHz and carrying 3MB of on-chip Level 3 cache. HP also offers this server with 900MHz processors, but these chips have only 1.5MB of Level 3 cache, which can be a bottleneck in high-transaction environments. The RX2600 includes HPs ZX1 chip set, which HP views as a key differentiator from chip sets designed by Intel Corp. and IBM.

With an entry price of $7,000 for one 900MHz processor, 1GB of DDR (Double Data Rate) memory and one 36GB hot-plug disk, the HP Server RX2600 does not make financial sense as a replacement for IA-32-based servers, especially in the one- to two-processor range.

The unit we tested costs about $24,000 and had twin 1GHz/3MB CPUs, 4GB of DDR memory and a single 73GB hot-plug disk.

The HP Server RX2600 can hold 12GB of memory, which is a large amount considering that its only a two-processor server. When higher-density dual in-line memory modules are available, memory capacity will increase to a jaw-dropping 24GB.

Four PCI-X slots are available for high-speed network and storage adapters. The HP ZX6000 workstation, which is almost identical to the HP Server RX2600 from a hardware perspective, has three PCI-X slots, with a fourth slot reserved for Accelerated Graphics Port video cards.

The slim (3.5-inch) HP Server RX2600 has the ability to hold three hard drives, and the on-board Ultra 320 SCSI controller should be quite speedy once drives that can optimally support it become generally available sometime later this year.

Twin hot-swappable power supplies are located at the front of the server, providing redundancy in case of a failure.

The cooling system features four hot-swappable fans, but to get to them we had to remove the top of the server chassis.

eWeek Labs plans to publish extensive Itanium 2 benchmarks in a forthcoming issue.

Senior Analyst Henry Baltazar can be reached at

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