RealTime IT News

Intel Delays Next Itanium, AMD Looks to 45nm

Intel has pushed back the launch of the "Tukwila" generation of Itanium processors until the first quarter of 2010, insisting it's not because of bugs but what it calls "an opportunity to further enhance application scalability."

Intel claims that it is tracking to twice the performance of its current Itanium, known by the codename Montvale, and this delay will give the company a chance to increase that performance further.

"Toward the end of a series of validation tests, we saw a way to gain greater scalability," Intel (NASDAQ: INTC) spokesman Patrick Ward told InternetNews.com. "That's very crucial with the type of high-end RISC mission critical market that Itanium addresses. We were looking to enhance its application scalability and saw an opportunity to do so."

Tukwila has been in development for several years and represents quite a change from prior generations of the processor, which might explain its tardiness. Tukwila was originally supposed to ship in 2008 but was delayed to mid-2009 to add support for DDR3 memory.

Tukwila is a massive processor, the first with more than two billion transistors. Most Core 2 and Xeon chips barely reach the one billion transistor mark. That's due to Tukwila's four cores and 30MB of cache. It features advanced virtualization features, RAS and high availability features.

A delay like this, though, is hardly a disaster on par with AMD's earlier, oft-delayed Barcelona server chip aimed at broader market. "The high-end of the market is different," said Ward. "There's big investments made over a long period of time. We think this is something that will make Itanium better and more competitive going forward. The market is in no rush."

True enough, said Nathan Brookwood, research fellow with Insight 64, who follows the semiconductor industry. "It's a very patient market. The cycle times on server chips are considerably longer than they are on the desktop, and customers are conditioned to wait. These are big, complicated chips going into big, complicated systems. You want to get it right," he told InternetNews.com.

Ward said Itanium continues to grow in the market even as other RISC vendors, notably Sun, struggle, which Brookwood confirmed. "Itanium's doing ok in the market. This is a much underappreciated story; that Itanium has continued to grow its market share. It's taken a lot of share from Sparc, not surprising given Sun's status these days," he said.

AMD slims down

Meanwhile, AMD (NYSE: AMD) is reportedly shrinking its desktop parts. Taiwanese publication DigiTimes reports that AMD plans to move many more of its desktop processors to the 45 nanometer process by the third quarter of this year.

Only a few of AMD's desktop parts are 45nm, the newest generation of Phenom II triple- and quad-core processors. The rest use the 65nm process. For AMD, that means it can make more chips per wafer, thus reducing cost. For the consumer, that means lower cost processors and higher clock speeds.

AMD said it declines to comment on rumors and speculation.

Brookwood said AMD has been competitive in the mid-range market with 65nm parts, and will remain competitive with 45nm parts despite Intel's considerable lead with 45nm processors.

"I think they've done OK over the intervening period, but smaller is better," he said. "This helps AMD in terms of cost and may help a little bit in terms of performance, but it's not going to change the competitive picture that much."