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April 12, 2004

Two more Peppier Itaniums for two-way servers

Intel Corp is hosting its eponymous Developer Forum in Taiwan this week, and the company likes to have some interesting new hardware to talk about at all of its big shows. To that end, Intel has announced two faster Itanium 2 processors in the "Madison" family that it hopes will help spur the adoption of its 64-bit Itaniums in the two-way server space that is in many ways becoming the breadbasket of the server market.

By CBR Staff Writer

According to Jason Waxman, director of multiprocessor platform marketing at Intel, the introduction of the new 1.4GHz/3MB cache and 1.6GHz/3MB cache Madison parts put Intel one step closer on that path towards its stated goal of delivering Itanium platforms that cost the same as Xeon platforms by 2007, but which deliver twice the performance.

The 1.4GHz/3MB Madison chip is available immediately, and it is based on the same 130 nanometer copper processes that Intel uses to make both faster Madison and slower Deerfield Itanium 2 chips for the dual processor (DP) server and workstation markets. The larger Madison MP (short for multiprocessor) chips also use a 130 nanometer process. This new chip replaces a 1.4GHz/1.5MB Madison, and Intel claims that the larger 3MB cache can help applications deliver up to 25% more performance.

With that 3MB cache, the 1.4GHz Itanium dissipates about 99 watts of heat. This chip is available immediately to Intel’s OEM server and workstation customers, and Intel is also making its own whitebox rack-mounted servers available to resellers that want to just go straight to Intel for a box. The 1.4GHz/3MB Madison chip costs $1,172 in 1,000-unit quantities, the same price as the 1.4GHz/1.5MB part it replaces. Intel also still sells a 1.4GHz/4MB Madison chip for $2,247 each in 1,000-unit quantities.

The top end Madison prior to today’s announcement was a 1.5GHz/6MB part that costs a whopping $4,227. But a new 1.6GHz/3MB Madison that Intel will start shipping sometime in May is going to give that earlier Madison chip, a so-called Itanium MP for four-way and larger servers, a run for the money. The 1.6GHz/3MB chip dissipates 112 watts of heat as it runs, a little bit less than the 130 watts that the 1.5GHz/6MB part does. The 1.6GHz chip will nonetheless deliver 6.4 gigaflops of floating point performance and 51.2 GB/sec of cache bandwidth per processor, which makes it a very powerful chip.

The company has not tweaked the low-end of the Itanium DP line, and the Deerfield Itanium 2 chip that Intel launched in September 2003 running at 1GHz with 1.5MB of L3 cache memory is still the least power-hungry of the Itanium chips. This chip, at 62 watts of heat dissipation, is much more attractive for some dense clusters despite the fact that it does not deliver the best performance, mainly because at $744 a piece in 1,000-unit quantities, it offers pretty respectable price performance and arguably the best flops per watt ratios.

As 2004 was getting started, Intel said that it wanted to get the Xeon and Itanium server lines into price parity by 2007. A 64-bit Itanium core will deliver about the same performance as a 32-bit or 64-bit Xeon core on most workloads; on some workloads, the Itanium chip really excels, of course. But because the Itanium core is much smaller than the Xeon core, Intel is going to be able to jam twice as many Itanium cores on a chip as it can Xeon cores. This seems to be mainly how Intel is going to get Itanium platforms at a performance level that is twice that of Xeons, even those with 64-bit extensions. But Intel wants price parity per core between Xeon and Itanium platforms, so choosing Itanium becomes a no-brainer.

In 2002, with the 1GHz/3MB McKinley Itaniums, Waxman says that a dual-processor Itanium server cost about $18,000 with 4GB of main memory and a 36GB disk drive in the box. With the Madison generation of Itanium 2 DPs last year, the cost of a two-way machine with considerably more performance fell to around $11,000 with the same 4GB of main memory and 36GB disk.

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With the advent of the 1.4GHz/3MB Madison Itanium DP today, Intel reckons that server makers will be able to get Madison DP servers out the door with two chips and 4GB of memory for under $8,000. (That is a machine from Ion Computer, which is trying to undercut bigger server makers to get a toehold in the game.) Machines from tier one vendors are a bit more pricey, so watch Intel’s comparisons.

Hewlett-Packard is selling an rx1600 Deerfield machine with Linux bundled on it for $2,100 with one 1.5GHz/1.5MB chip and 512MB of main memory. With two processors and 4 GB of main memory, it costs $8,985. An rx2600 box with two 1.4GHz/1.5MB processors, 4GB of main memory, and a 36GB disk costs $12,320. Why HP is doubling the price of the processors in this box is unclear. But server vendors often modify heat sinks and other components so they can control the distribution of Intel’s parts. This was the case with Pentium III Xeon and Pentium 4 Xeon parts.

These are the games server people play, and when Intel says that the Itanium platforms today are less than half the price of the machines from two years ago, you simply have to get the Ion Computer price on that HP gear (or a 33% discount) to make it true. This is, by the way, perfectly reasonable but the stats could be misleading to someone who doesn’t read the fine print.

Intel is determined to push the cost of Itanium machines down again with the Montecito dual-core Itanium MPs and Millington dual-core Itanium DPs in 2005, and will reach price parity with Xeon machines in the Tukwila Itanium MP and Dimona Itanium DP chips (presumably both with four cores) in 2007. One of the ways that Intel will reach parity is by creating a single system board that can accept either Xeon or Itanium processors, which will be given the same pin outs in the 2007 generation, according to Waxman.

These machines will use similar memory technologies and share other components as well. In fact, this convergence will begin with the 90 nanometer generations of Xeons and Itaniums in 2005 and 2006. By 2007, Intel will be well on its way toward 65 nanometer technologies, and if all goes well, DP and MP server board components will be essentially identical except for the Xeon or Itanium processors.

By that time, Itanium will have to have broken out of the high-performance technical market that is pretty much the main bastion of Itanium users today and gone mainstream, or something else will have leapt into the gap. IBM will be pushing its Power6 and Power7 processors by then, and if Advanced Micro Devices continues to gain traction, it will still be in the game and could end up being the main component in servers from Sun Microsystems Inc and Fujitsu-Siemens. Sun’s own Throughput Computing designs, with hundreds of threads per core, also have a chance to shake things up. It is by no means a foregone conclusion that Itanium will win in the 64-bit generation. But it will have better than even odds if Intel can deliver twice the performance for the same price as a Xeon box and keep in line with RISC/Unix architectures and Opterons.

This article is based on material originally published by ComputerWire

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