January 27, 2006 12:30 PM PST

Next Itanium consumes less power

SAN FRANCISCO--Intel's forthcoming "Montecito" member of the Itanium processor family will consume 100 watts, a significant drop from the 130 watts of current models and an advantage in an era when power consumption is a top enemy.

Intel spokesman Scott McLaughlin confirmed the figure at an Itanium Solutions Alliance meeting here. The change means Itanium will have about 2.5 times the performance per watt of the current Itanium 2 9M model.

The major reason for the lower power is the shift to a new manufacturing process employing 90-nanometer features, which means the circuitry can be made smaller compared with the 130-nanometer size used by the current Itanium, McLaughlin said. (A nanometer is a billionth of a meter; Intel's PC processors are already produced on a more advanced process with 65-nanometer features, and the chipmaker just demonstrated a prototype with 45-nanometer features.)

"A 100-watt envelope for 1.7 billion transistors--that's a heck of a deal," said Microprocessor Report Editor in Chief Kevin Krewell. "Performance per watt is becoming a more critical metric."

But part of the lower power consumption came because Intel sacrificed features and clock speed in an October delay of Montecito, Krewell said. Intel lowered Montecito's top speed to 1.6GHz from 1.8GHz and dropped a feature called Foxton that would have let the chip jump to 2GHz if it was running cool enough. "It's disappointing that something they hoped would provide a greater kicker couldn't be there and that they delayed the launch for nine months to close to a year," Krewell said.

Performance per watt has become a major focus at server companies trying to deal with increasing chip power consumption, computer equipment density and electricity prices. Sun Microsystems touts the 72-watt consumption of its UltraSparc T1 "Niagara" processor, and Advanced Micro Devices has touted the fact that its standard Opteron chips consume 95 watts compared with a range of 110 watts to 165 watts for Intel's rival Xeon.

Google, a massive buyer of computing systems, has said power costs are likely to outpace server hardware costs if performance per watt doesn't change.

Intel isn't ready to say whether 100 watts will be the new maximum permitted for Itanium systems of the future. However, McLaughlin said, "In our future, performance per watt is very important and not just a nice-to-have feature."

Power improvements could give Itanium a much-needed boost. The high-end processor once was expected to sweep the server world, but because of delays, poor initial performance and software incompatibilities, Intel has had major difficulties getting Itanium to catch on. And though there is still widespread use of Intel's Xeon processor, an x86 model that unlike Itanium smoothly runs software for chips such as Pentium, it, too faces challenges.

"Nothing that we heard from Intel this week changes our belief that AMD is going to take more share in server processors this year," Merrill Lynch analyst Joe Osha said in a report this week.

But Itanium backers are forging ahead. At the Itanium alliance meeting, Intel and eight server makers declared they're spending $10 billion on Itanium research, development, marketing and support for software companies. The meeting drew several high-ranking executives, including Intel Chief Executive Paul Otellini and Bob Muglia, Microsoft's senior vice president in charge of servers and tools.

Hewlett-Packard, which codeveloped Itanium along with Intel and remains the chip's major backer among server makers, believes Itanium has an advantage when it comes to power issues. "Power dissipation is a function of clock speed. Architectures like Itanium get more work done per clock cycle," said Don Jenkins, vice president of marketing for HP's Business Critical Server group. "That puts Itanium as an architecture in a very good place."

But the initial promise that Itanium would execute more instructions per cycle hasn't panned out, Krewell said. "If that was the case, Itanium would be blowing away everybody in the marketplace," he said. "Software schedulers never got as good as the architects thought they would."

Compared with today's Itanium chips, Montecito will roughly double performance in transaction processing tasks such as running databases. The chip has dual processing engines, called cores, and each core can execute two instruction sequences called threads.

4 comments

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Two cores but...
how many front-side buses?
Posted by scdecade (329 comments )
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Intel should just retire this chip
Heck, even I forgot it was still in production.
Posted by bobby_brady (765 comments )
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Itanium still at 130nm
1.6GHZ Itanium and 1.3GHZ Core duo,...

<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://sharikou.blogspot.com" target="_newWindow">http://sharikou.blogspot.com</a>
Posted by sharikou (106 comments )
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Just Like Intel, Throw good money after bad...
Time to concede that this was a bad idea. When this product was started there were no x86 64bit CPUs and Intel was going to make sure of that by not releasing an x86 64 bit CPU.
All of that changed when AMD released not only a desktop x86 64 bit CPU but also a very good server processor in that space too. Both of these architectures are backward compatible to the standard x86/32 bit standard, while Itanium is not.
Intel resisted (even though they initially had a project for a mixed 32/64 x86 compatible chip) and decided "what was best for us all" to drop their 32/64 bit x86 chip and make Itanium their only stake in the 64 bit arena.
Only when AMD started gaining market share did Intel give in and revive the mixed 32/64 bit x86 chips all the while letting AMD capture market share.
To make matters worse their Itanium time lines slipped and projects were/are not coming in on time.
This so much reminds me of the situation 3DFX found themselves in when their timelines slipped on their final product line. By the time they were released other far more capable products had been released essentially "leap-frogging" their new product line.
3DFX's mistakes cost them their company due to lack of long term capital. But don't worry about Intel they have the long term capital and will continue to use it to support the "Kings new clothes" or Itanium project to the very end.
What does it matter to them? Absolutely nothing since they will just make up all of those project costs by marking up the current products with a little Itanium surcharge.

Fred Dunn
Posted by fred dunn (793 comments )
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