RealTime IT News

When You Can Expect Intel's Next Itanium

When Intel (NASDAQ: INTC) quietly delayed the launch of Tukwila, its quad-core Itanium processor last year, the news got lost in the year-end holiday season, U.S. elections and the global economy's stunning downturn.

Time's up. Intel plans to have it the hands of OEMs by the middle of this year, said Susan Tauzer, mission critical platform marketing director at Intel.

Intel's high-end architecture, launched in 2001 as a joint venture with HP, has settled into a comfortable niche as the processor of choice for mission critical, high availability servers that can afford no down time at all.

Itanium's pedigree includes engineers who worked on HP's PA-RISC and Digital Equipment Group's Alpha, the first 64-bit RISC processor ever when it came out in 1992. One of Alpha's co-developers, Dirk Meyer, is now CEO of Intel (NASDAQ: INTC) rival AMD (NYSE: AMD).

Tukwila is a massive processor, with four cores and 30MB of cache. It's the first Intel processor to surpass two billion transistors on one die (the second will be Nehalem-EX, an eight-core server processor in the Core i7 family). It features advanced virtualization features, RAS and high availability features.

Because Itanium goes into machines that have long validation testing and qualifying before being deployed, the company wanted to future proof it, Tauzer told InternetNews.com. That meant making it socket compatible with future chips and adopting new memory.

"Itanium customers are high validation hardware customers, so they don't want the cadence of Xeons, with a new platform every year," she said. "Itanium customers want processors with a little longer time in market."

Tukwila will now be socket compatible with Poulson, the next iteration of the Itanium processor, and Kitson, which follows Poulson. Intel has not set out release dates for the chips, despite rumors on some hardware discussion boards, and generally has a longer time between Itanium releases than its x86 family.

In order to provide customers with a future-proofed system, Intel decided to add scalable buffered memory, which would allow Tukwila systems to run DDR3 memory. Tukwila was going to support the older, more power-consuming FBDIMM, which Intel has been moving away from. Xeon servers used to use FBDIMM but the Core i7 family will be DDR3 as well.

"We planned to introduce DDR3 at a future date, but that would have meant a later interception with our roadmap," Tauzer told InternetNews.com. "We got very strong feedback from OEMs and users saying we would like DDR3 pulled in, so please make your best effort to pull it in."

Socket compatibility across three processor generations is a big deal, given the changes that the Itanium line will undergo. Tukwila is a 65nm part, so it doesn't use the high-k metal gate design of current Intel x86 chips. But with Poulson, the processor is taking a huge leap forward to 32nm, which will definitely change its thermal state. As Poulson is unannounced, beyond a codename, Intel declined to discuss specifics.

If Intel could make changes like socket design and memory support and only be a few months late, that's a big accomplishment, said Nathan Brookwood, research fellow with semiconductor consultancy Insight64.

"I think the Itanium customers clearly look for stability, they look for a solid roadmap that allows upgrades at their convenience and these kinds of changes will help that," he told InternetNews.com. "Trading off a few months to get more longevity strikes me as a sensible move. Intel has been doing a lot of that lately."