Intel’s First Dual-Core Itanium Delayed

In a major embarrassment to the world’s biggest chipmaker, Intel plans to delay the release of new versions of its
ballyhooed Itanium processor until next year.

An Intel spokesman said
Montecito, its first
dual-core Itanium
will ship in volume by the middle of 2006, instead of
in the first quarter, as earlier announcements indicated. The release of
several successive versions of Itanium also have been pushed back.

“We have seed units out [of Montecito], and the performance looks pretty
good, but we decided we needed time to do more testing to hit significantly
high quality for this mission critical product,” William Giles, a
spokesman for Intel, told internetnews.com.

At the same time, Intel said it plans to beef up its Xeon line in 2007 with a new
processor code-named “Tigerton.” Tigerton will be part of a new Xeon
MP platform called “Caneland” that Giles said improves on the Reidland
platform and Whitefield processor they replace. One specific advantage that
Caneland processors will have is a dedicated high-speed connection between
the chipset and memory, improving on earlier and current designs that use a
separate front-side bus. AMD regularly mocks
Intel
for continuing to use the frontside bus ,
which dates back some twenty years.

Also, Intel’s plans to add a direct high-speed connection in Montecito
have been put on hold and won’t be implemented until later versions of the
Itanium.

“We’re still comfortable with the performance and expect Montecito to
offer a 2X performance improvement over earlier versions of Itanium,” said
Giles.

However, some analysts are concerned the delay gives competitors that
much more time to advance their own performance.

“Unless they can improve the performance of those chips, then they
[Intel] suffer a double whammy — they’re late and the competition has moved
on to higher performance,” Nathan Brookwood, an analyst with Insight64, told
internetnews.com. “Late chips don’t get faster, they get later.”

Competitors such as Sun Microsystems have specific
campaigns
targeting Itanium customers, included a Web site headlined “Get
off the Itanic” that compares the Itanium to the doomed Titanic ocean liner.

Speculating on reasons for the delay, Brookwood said even a company the
size of Intel can have problems dealing with a processor as complicated as
Itanium. “Intel has to deal with so many different system environments and
so many core logic system implementations for Itanium that it should be no
surprise they run into unexpected problems,” Brockwood said. “This is a lot more challenging
problem than, say, IBM with its Power processor. IBM has far less variations
to worry about.”

Another less obvious reason for the delay could be AMD, even though it
doesn’t compete directly with Itanium in most markets. Intel plans to beef
up its Xeon line to better compete with AMD’s hot-selling dual-core
Opteron. Brookwood believes resources for Xeon are being made a higher priority
because that’s Intel’s best response to AMD. With Itanium, Intel is primarily
going after the RISC-based workstation and high-end
server markets
, as well as supercomputers.

Intel’s Giles said there hasn’t been any shifting of resources away from
Itanium that he’s aware of. He said, “This isn’t a ‘turn up the volume on Xeon and
away from Itanium’ deal.”

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