Itanium Problem Fixed, Compaq Starts Production on Server

Compaq Computer Corp. has started production on its first Itanium-based server after a five-month delay it blamed on problems with Intel Corp.'s new 64-bit chip.

Compaq Computer Corp. has started production on its first Itanium-based server after a five-month delay it blamed on problems with Intel Corp.s new 64-bit chip.

While the new system may bolster Intels efforts to promote the slow-selling Itanium, Compaqs disclosures of troubles with the chip may dampen system managers interest in it.

"Im always kind of wary of any new technology that hasnt proven itself in the marketplace," said Lee Johnson, CAD support specialist for Western Star Trucks, in Kelowna, British Columbia. "Hearing that there are problems with [Itanium] just compounds that wariness."

Houston-based Compaq first confirmed problems with its new Itanium-based ProLiant 590/64 server last month, saying it had held off shipping the system, announced in July, because it failed to pass stress tests done by a company lab. At the time, Compaq said the problem appeared to reside with the chip.

But two weeks later, an Intel representative blamed the trouble on the BIOS program packaged with the processor and said it developed a BIOS modification to resolve the issue. The BIOS is the first software a processor accesses when it starts up. The BIOS determines what other computer components are present and loads up the operating system.

A Compaq representative this week offered further details on how the companys "sighting"—an industry term used to describe worse-than-expected system performance—was addressed.

"The sighting was resolved with a change in Intels processor abstraction layer code, part of the BIOS that controls the operation of the processor," said Compaq spokesman Tim Willeford.

The computer maker also stressed that the sightings were not a result of the failure of any other system component.

"The issue was specific to the Itanium processor," said Intel spokeswoman Barbara Grimes "It was not a problem specific to Compaq."

While no other computer makers reported having problems similar to those experienced by Compaq, Grimes said, Intel has sent the BIOS update to all of its customers.

Itanium was officially launched in late May after more than seven years of development and numerous delays. Intel, based in Santa Clara, Calif., is counting on the new chip to break into the high-end enterprise computing market dominated by Unix-based systems developed by Sun Microsystems Inc., IBM and Hewlett-Packard Co.

Servers built using 64-bit processors, which can handle heavier workloads than the more common 32-bit chips, are among the most expensive computer systems sold and can cost several million dollars a piece.

Such high-selling prices could offer Intel far greater profit margins than it currently garners from selling processors for PCs and low- to mid-range servers. For example, Intel currently sells an 800MHz Itanium processor with 4MB of cache for $4,227. By contrast, it sells a 2GHz Pentium 4 for $401, in 1,000-unit quantities.