SAN JOSE, Calif.—A senior executive with Intel Corp. Tuesday revealed plans for a dual-core Itanium processor, belittled Sun Microsystems Inc.s rival product as “old fashioned” and hinted that Dell Computer Corp. may be out of its league in the 64-bit arena during a briefing to tout the chip makers Itanium product line.
Mike Fister, general manager of Intels Enterprise Platforms Group, expressed his views on the high-end 64-bit computing market during a meeting with reporters at the Intel Developer Forum here.
Since Itanium was launched in May 2001, it has struggled to gain acceptance in the highly conservative high-end workstation and server markets, currently dominated by Sun, Hewlett-Packard Co. and IBM. Intel is looking for sales to heat up following its August release of Itanium 2, which offers nearly doubles the performance of its predecessor.
At IDF this week, Intel touted its commitment to the new architecture by demonstrating systems already featuring the third-generation chip due out in mid-2003, code-named Madison.
In discussing the chips road map, Fister confirmed speculation that Intel will eventually migrate Itanium to a dual-core design, as rival 64-bit chip makers have done, or have announced plans to do.
“Without making a product announcement, sometime in the middle of the decade is the time when well do it,” Fister said.
The executive added that Intels decision to roll out hyperthreading technologies across all its desktop and server processors will help set the stage for a transition to a dual-core design. Specifically, hyperthreading enables a single processor to handle dual data streams, like two virtual processors.
“Hyperthreading is kind of a protagonist, or arch type, for that” dual-core design, Fister said.
IBMs Power4 processor, which debuted last October, already features two cores, and HP and Sun have also announced plans to migrate their 64-bit processors to dual-CPU cores in the next two years.
Despite acknowledging that Intels rivals are well along in their plans to produce dual-core chips, Fister rejected the suggestions that Itaniums development is lagging.
“Were not behind,” he said. “Its the price/performance that we concentrate on. When its time that we value the density you get by multicore integration, then well move.”
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If anyones lagging behind, Fister noted, its Suns UltraSparc III processor.
Suns chip is an “old fashioned piece of stuff,” Fister said. “If ours is a Porsche, then theirs is a [Chevy] Nova or Volkswagen.”
While Fister said he is reluctant to criticize Sun too harshly—”We dont want to bash them. I mean why kick somebody when they are down?”—he nevertheless continued his assault, mocking the computer makers high-end E10000 64-processor server, which was largely credited with helping fuel the computer makers strong growth in the late 1990s.
“The thing that I get a kick out of people saying is, When are you going to have an E10000 thats running 64 processors on it?” Fister said. “Well, theyve got to use 64 processors just to approach the performance we can demonstrate with 32.”
During the briefing, the Intel executive highlighted how industry leaders, such as HP—which co-developed Itanium—IBM, NEC Corp. and Unisys Corp. had embraced Itanium 2 and already have systems or announced plans for systems based on the chip.
But noticeably missing from that list of high-profile vendors is Dell, a leading seller of servers that exclusively uses Intel chips. After initially offering a first-generation Itanium system in 2001, Dell this year is taking a wait-and-see approach on Itanium 2, saying that it had no plans to release a system featuring the chip.
Fister said that Dells decision shouldnt raise questions as to whether theres demand for Itanium 2, but rather may be an acknowledgment by the computer maker that it lacks the capability to fully support 16-way and larger servers like its competitors offer.
“Right now, the biggest computer that Dell sells is an eight-processor system,” he said. “It takes a whole service and support infrastructure to build and support a 16-processor computer and to drive applications that can scale across them. … You may be seeing a little bit of segmenting between Dell, IBM and HP.”
The facts largely support Fisters conclusion. Currently, high-end 64-bit servers sold by Sun, HP and IBM often sell for $1 million to $10 million apiece and are packaged with extensive service, support and custom software offerings. By contrast, the bulk of Dells sales are one- and two-processor systems costing less than $10,000 each, and usually are packaged with software from Microsoft Corp.
Earlier this week, the high cost of 64-bit performance computing was underscored when NEC heralded its high TPC-C benchmark results posted by its 32-way TX7 server based on Itanium 2. The server, which wont be available in the United States until later this year, will be offered for $4.6 million.
Fister will offer further comments on Intels Itanium and Xeon processor plans in a keynote address Wednesday at the San Jose Convention Center.
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