March 8, 2005 11:45 AM PST

Intel: x86 won't encroach on Itanium

SAN FRANCISCO--In Intel's thinking, it's not a big problem that Itanium isn't compatible with widely used x86 processors such as Pentium.

Pat Gelsinger
Pat Gelsinger
senior VP, Intel

The chipmaker has been roundly criticized for that incompatibility, which hampers software support, but Intel's strategy is sound because Itanium serves a market largely unaffected by the x86 expansion, said Pat Gelsinger, the senior vice president in charge of Intel's digital enterprise group.

Demand for servers using x86 processors has grown dramatically in recent years, but that growth has largely tapered off, leaving the market for powerful "big iron" machines that use Intel's newer Itanium chips unthreatened, he argued at the Intel Developer Forum here last week.

"We're projecting a very robust, large market for the biggest iron, for a decade-plus to come," Gelsinger said in an interview. "That's where Itanium is aiming."

It's a reasonable approach, said Gartner analyst Martin Reynolds. "Over the next few years, I think Itanium is going to start looking really interesting," he said.

It's no surprise that Intel is angling for influence in servers. The powerful machines are the brains of computer networks, used for everything from hosting Web sites to executing bank transactions.

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What's new:
Intel believes x86 chips such as Xeon, although increasingly powerful and widespread, won't penetrate the market for high-end servers for years to come.

Bottom line:
Intel argues Itanium has a strong opportunity in the high-end market, despite acknowledged missteps in the past with the chip family. Many server makers aren't aligned with Intel's view of the market, though.

More stories on Itanium

But Gelsinger acknowledged difficulties in the Itanium launch, which has been afflicted by delays, poor initial performance and software incompatibility with x86 chips. Intel has scaled back its earlier plans to make the chip as widespread in servers as Pentium is in desktops, and now bills the chip only for high-end machines.

"Obviously, the Itanium ramp is more difficult than we forecasted when we started," Gelsinger said.

And Intel might not have made the same decisions had it thought more carefully about the Itanium challenge, he said.

"Introducing a new architecture is very hard. Had we laid out the business plan and really saw how long it took to get there, management and the board of directors might have made different decisions," Gelsinger said.

The issue is put to rest now, though, he said. "We now made the investment, and the industry is adopting it. We're out of the woods. This dog hunts."

x86 in the driver's seat
Gartner's Reynolds believes that x86 servers have captured the attention and momentum of the server market. "The small servers have

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Intel is delusional...
Cite their push of RDRAM, and their total exclusion of x86 64 bit extensions. This is another bad decision that has gone too far.

If and when Intel designs an Itanium with efficient x86 VM microcode then they will pull it off, otherwise the original big metal players will kill them due to their experience in the market.
Posted by fred dunn (793 comments )
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