If the third time really is the charm, then Intel and its hardware partners are set to reap the benefits of Madison, the third generation of the 64-bit Itanium processor family expected to be announced on Monday.
Momentum is finally building behind Itanium as it evolves from a low-volume product to one more attractive to customers with the introduction of Madison, said Dean McCarron, principal analyst at Mercury Research Inc. in Cave Creek, Arizona.
Dell Computer Corp. released details on its Madison-based PowerEdge 3250 server Wednesday, Dell's first Itanium server since the launch of the inaugural Itanium chip. Dell skipped the second generation of Itanium, known as McKinley.
Dell decided to use Itanium again because Madison delivered a superior level of performance over the McKinley chip for the same price, said Darrel Ward, a Dell product manager, in a conference call Wednesday. The PowerEdge 3250 is a dual-processor server that users can cluster in up to 128 nodes, Ward said. Its pricing and availability will be announced later this year.
Hewlett-Packard Co., IBM Corp., Unisys Corp., and others are expected to make systems available with the new processors on or around Monday's launch.
Itanium systems have not appeared in a great many server rooms due to the lack of enthusiasm for Intel's EPIC (explicitly parallel instruction computing) instruction set, introduced with the first Itanium chip in May 2001. Many companies run their businesses on 32-bit x86 server processors such as Intel's Xeon, and some are deciding they need to take advantage of a 64-bit processor's ability to store more data in memory, and the wider general purpose registers that allow for better performance.
But in order to run their applications on Itanium, IT managers must port all of those applications to the new instruction set, which can be a time-consuming process.
Madison's increased performance will be an incentive to make that switch, especially for users of Microsoft Corp.'s SQL Server database, said Nathan Brookwood, principal analyst with Insight 64 in Saratoga, California.
"SQL Server has really only existed on the 32-bit Intel Xeons, and databases are the horizontal application that benefit the most from 64-bit architectures. Anybody who is using SQL Server on Xeon and running out of gas is going to love this processor," Brookwood said.
Advanced Micro Devices Inc. also offers an alternative for IT managers contemplating the move to a 64-bit architecture. The Opteron processor, launched in April, uses 64-bit extensions to the x86 instruction set to allow companies to keep some of their applications running at 32 bits while they port the applications that will benefit the most from a 64-bit architecture.
Madison will come in three varieties. The fastest chip will run at 1.5GHz, and come with 6M bytes of on-die Level 3 cache, Intel disclosed earlier this year at the International Solid State Circuits Conference. Another 1.5GHz version will be released with 3M bytes of Level 3 cache, and a third will come at a slower clock speed with 3M bytes of cache, Brookwood said. Customers will be able to run Linux or Microsoft Corp.'s Windows 2003 Advanced Server on the processors.
Since the launch of the Itanium processor family, Intel has kept the same pricing for its Itanium chips as new ones were introduced, and that trend should continue with Madison, Brookwood said. Three versions of the McKinley processors currently cost US$4,226, $2,247, and $1,338.