Montecito Reviews Mixed

HP, Unisys and Fujitsu back Intel's latest chip, but some industry observers are still skeptical

Intel finally has its long-awaited dual-core Itanium 2 chip on the market, and, as with everything else in the controversial processors history, the launch was accompanied by equal parts enthusiasm and doubt.

Intel officials celebrated the release of the Itanium 2 9000 Series—code-named Montecito—at an event here July 18, touting a technology they say offers twice the performance and 2.5 times the performance per watt of its single-core predecessor, all while consuming 20 percent less power.

The Montecito launch continues Intels "summer of servers," said Pat Gelsinger, senior vice president of the chip makers Digital Enterprise Group. Since May, Intel has released two new dual-core Xeon DP chips and later this year will unveil the dual-core Xeon MP "Tulsa" processor.

The Itanium 2 9000 Series is targeted squarely at the $20 billion RISC space, particularly IBMs Power technology and Sun Microsystems SPARC platform. Montecito gives users "a freedom to choose a new architecture for mission-critical computing," Gelsinger said.

OEM supporters embraced the chip, which includes not only the two processing cores on a single die but also on-chip virtualization capabilities and Cache Safe technology, where errors are detected and corrected by the chip. Montecito offers up to 1.7 billion transistors and 24MB of Level 3 cache.

The result will be greater performance, availability and cost efficiency for Hewlett-Packards largest customers. "Customers will effectively be able to get the work of two copies of software for the price of one," said Brian Cox, worldwide director of server marketing for HPs Business Critical Systems group, in Cupertino, Calif.

"The new dual-core Itanium 2 processor helps Unisys create server solutions superior to proprietary Unix/RISC offerings," said Mark Feverston, vice president of enterprise servers for Unisys, in Blue Bell, Pa.

HP, which sells more than 80 percent of all Itanium systems with its Integrity line, will bring Montecito into its high-end systems later this year. Unisys will put the Montecito chips into its current ES7000/One, as well as future systems within that server family, Feverston said.

Others, such as Fujitsu Computer Systems, of Sunnyvale, Calif., have begun shipping systems with the 9000 Series. At the July 18 event, Fujitsu unveiled the PrimeQuest 500 series of servers, with the three systems—the 520, 540 and 580—scaling from eight to 32 sockets.

Intel, of Santa Clara, Calif., has been "seeding" Montecito systems with customers since late last year. Some of those users praised the chip, saying it allows them either to do work that they couldnt have done before or to do the same work faster.

One of those companies is chemical manufacturer DuPont, of Wil-mington, Del. Tim Mueller, supervisor of DuPonts high-performance computing and computational services, said the performance increases offered by Montecito let scientists do work that they couldnt have done two or three years ago: "We can do more work in the same amount of time, but, more importantly, we can tackle bigger problems."

However, some industry observers question whether the new 9000 Series will help Intel jump-start an architecture that so far has failed to live up to expectations. Not only does it have to compete with IBM and Sun platforms, but there also is the growing threat of improving x86 processors, particularly Advanced Micro Devices Opteron and Intels own Xeon chips.

And while Intel officials point to growing revenues, increased application availability and optimistic projections—analyst company IDC predicts a $6.6 billion Itanium market by 2010—others point to a troubled history and falling shipment numbers. In addition, HP is the only top-tier OEM with Itanium systems—IBM and Dell both dropped their offerings, and Sun has opted for Opteron.

"Itanium has, for all objective criteria—except those put forth by Intel and perhaps HP—been a failure with respect to its initial mission," said Clay Ryder, an analyst with Sageza Group, in Union City, Calif. "As for its redefined mission of super-high-end computing, it has been more successful than for general-purpose computing. However, its sales are low, and it is supported by few system vendors. With the release of Montecito, Intel may be able to apply some marketing muscle. However, one does have to ask: If Itanium wasnt all that appealing before, why would it be different this time?"

Yes, dual core is desirable, Ryder said, "but many chips have this. Is all that extra cache going to be important outside of specific applications?"

Chris Preimesberger

Chris J. Preimesberger

Chris J. Preimesberger is Editor-in-Chief of eWEEK and responsible for all the publication's coverage. In his 13 years and more than 4,000 articles at eWEEK, he has distinguished himself in reporting...