Itanium 2 to Launch to Lukewarm Reception

Support for Intel's 1GHz, 64-bit chip among computer makers appears to be wavering.

Intel Corp. next week will launch its 1GHz Itanium 2 processor, code-named McKinley, sources said, with Hewlett-Packard Co. and IBM to announce new servers featuring the 64-bit chip on Monday.

But while HP, which co-developed the chip, remains a stalwart backer of the new high-end processor, support among other computer makers appears to be wavering.

IBM, for example, has decided not to support the processor in an upcoming version of its proprietary Unix operating system, AIX 5.1. While IBM will offer Itanium 2 servers with Linux and Microsoft Corp. software, the lack of AIX support virtually assures that many of the companys financial and government customers will continue to purchase AIX-based servers featuring IBMs Power4 processors.

Dell Computer Corp., the worlds second largest server vendor, based on units shipped, has also not committed itself publicly to offering an Itanium 2 server. The company pulled the plug on its Itanium-based workstation only a few months after release, citing a lack of demand.

Even before it was released in May 2001 after a two-year delay, cracks began to appear in what was once widespread industry support for Itanium when Sun Microsystems Inc., the worlds leading seller of 64-bit systems, shelved plans to release Itanium-compatible versions of its proprietary Solaris operating system.

Despite a multiyear campaign by Intel and HP to ignite interest in the chip, the processor has largely gotten the cold shoulder from enterprise customers who rely on 64-bit servers to run their most critical business applications. In fact, since its release in May 2001, the chip has appeared in less than 1 percent of servers shipped, according to International Data Corp.

Intel and HP are optimistic customer demand will finally heat up with the release of Itanium 2, which offers up to twice the performance of its predecessor.

In order to further foster sales, Intel, the leading PC chip maker based in Santa Clara, Calif., will even manufacture its own four-way Itanium servers, basically "bare-bones hardware," and supply them to regional computer makers worldwide. The move is aimed at assuring that Intels partners that have limited experience in 64-bit systems, such as Chinese computer maker Legend Holdings, will be able to offer Intels newest product.