Itanium 2 Shines in Intel Tests

Intel boasts that, according to new performance estimates, its 64-bit, 1GHz Itanium 2 tops the next iteration of Sun's 1GHz UltraSparc III.

Intel Corp. today is boasting about new performance estimates for its 1GHz Itanium 2 processor, due out this summer, that show its second-generation 64-bit chip is up to two times faster than its predecessor and--based on its own calculations--more than a match for the next iteration of the 1GHz UltraSparc III.

Scheduled to arrive a little more than a year after the 733MHz Itanium debuted, the new chip, code-named McKinley, features a number of enhancements that will dramatically boost its performance. As a result, the Itanium 2 is widely viewed as Intels first true threat to take market share away from high-end Unix vendors such as market leader Sun Microsystems Inc. and IBM.

Coinciding with its Developers Forum in Munich, Germany, Intel today heralded the most detailed information yet on the Itanium 2s performance, often comparing the chip with projected scores for Suns own upcoming chip release, a 1GHz UltraSparc III. Among the more notable findings released: ·

  • In a comparison based on Internet-based commerce, a prototype two-processor Itanium 2 server running the RSA SSL-C benchmark performed 1,440 secure transactions per second, nearly three times the performances of an eight-processor Sun UltraSparc III server. More specifically, each Itanium 2 chip processed 10 times more transactions per chip than the 1GHz UltraSparc III. ·
  • Looking at large database and transaction processing, Intel estimates a four-processor Itanium 2 system will support 50 percent more transactions per minute than a comparable UltraSparc III system. ·
  • In tests targeting toward 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. ·
  • Looking at mechanical computer-aided design, Intel projected that a single Itanium 2 processor workstation running the MSC.Nastran benchmark will offer up to four times the performance of the UltraSparc III.

While the numbers touted are impressive, they should be viewed with skepticism given that official benchmarks for these tests wont be available until computer makers submit their Itanium 2 systems for third-party testing.

And while Intel touted these and other performance scores as evidence of the superiority of the companys as-yet-untested chip, a microprocessor analyst said such results dont paint an accurate picture of the actual system performance of Itanium 2-based servers or workstations.

"They are definitely playing to their strengths and highlighting the benchmarks they do well at," said Kevin Krewell, with In-Stat/MDR, which publishes the Microprocessor Report. "But some of the benchmarks really require a full systems test, so performance will be impacted by the type and amount of memory, hard drives, etc."

IBMs Power4: No comparison

Krewell also noted that Intel avoided comparing its new product with IBMs Power4 processor, which was released last year and is widely considered to be the highest performing 64-bit chip on the market.

"Sun is the leader in market share, but not in terms of performance," he said. "So its interesting that they focused heavily on Sun to the exclusion of the Power4 chip."

An Intel spokesman countered that the chip maker focuses on Sun because of its popularity with customers Intel will be competing for.

"We feel that the Sun-based platforms are the right comparison for the business-critical computing segments we are targeting the Itanium 2 at," said Shannon Poulin, enterprise marketing manager for Intel. "We have some data on Itanium 2 against the Power4 on technical workloads and expect to outperform them there. But well wait until those platforms become available from OEMs, who will then submit them to third-party labs for official results."

Sun countered that Intels estimates dont reflect the "real-world" performance, contending the benchmarks running 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 Sue Kunz, director of product marketing for Suns processor products group in Palo Alto, Calif.

"It just shows some of the deficiencies of the benchmarks the industry is still using, because this obviously wont scale to real-world performance," Kunz said. "At some point the processor will want to go out to main memory or else you wouldnt have main memory. Customers need to look at scores running things like SAP or Lotus Notes, essentially benchmarks associated with realistic workloads."

Even though Itanium is a relatively new chip on the block, the processors impact is already being felt as industry consolidation reduces the number of 64-bit alternatives.

Hewlett-Packard Co., which co-developed the Itanium, has already announced plans to phase out its PA-RISC processor and migrate to Intels 64-bit chip over the next three years. In addition, HP will also phase out the 64-bit Alpha processor it acquired in the buyout of Compaq Computer Corp., which acquired the chip from Digital Equipment Corp.

While Intel has established itself as the undisputed leader in 32-bit enterprise computing with its Pentium and Xeon processor lines, it remains a relatively small player in the 64-bit enterprise market. In targeting the 64-bit market, Intel is hoping to tap into what is the most lucrative segment of computing, one where processors sell for thousands of dollars as part of servers costing more than $1 million.

Companies value 64-bit computing systems for their ability to process more instructions simultaneously and address vast amounts of memory. For example, while a typical 32-bit processor can address a maximum of 4GB of memory, a 64-bit chip is potentially capable of providing millions of terabytes of address space. As a result, 64-bit chips are used to power servers designed to manage databases, handle thousands of transactions simultaneously or even run workstations used to produce complex digital three-dimensional modeling.

Among the more noteworthy enhancements of the Itanium 2 over its predecessor is that it will have 3MB of on-die Level 3 cache, additional execution units and issue ports. The Itanium 2 will also be packaged with a faster chip set offering a 400MHz, 128-bit bus capable of 6.4GB per second of bandwidth.

Related stories:

  • 64-Bit CPUs: What You Need to Know (ExtremeTech)
  • Intel Absolutely Committed to Itanium