Intel ships next-generation Itanium chip

The chip, codenamed Tukwila, features improved performance and new scalability, reliability, and virtualization features

Intel on Tuesday said it has started shipping its new Itanium processor codenamed Tukwila, after multiple delays and development problems stalled its release for years.

Itanium chips are 64-bit processors designed to run fault-tolerant servers that require high uptime. The chip's official launch is set for the first quarter of this year, Intel said in a blog entry.

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Tukwila is Intel's fastest Itanium processor yet, the company said. It adds numerous performance and architectural enhancements to boost system performance, Intel said in the blog.

"Tukwila more than doubles the performance of its predecessor and adds a range of new scalability, reliability, and virtualization features," Intel wrote. The chip includes a quad-core design and will be an upgrade of the current Itanium 9100 series of chips, codenamed Montecito, which were introduced in 2006.

The announcement comes ahead of the International Solid-State Circuits Conference, where Sun Microsystems and IBM are expected to discuss processors for high-end servers. The conference will be held in San Francisco between Feb. 7 and 11. Intel is also due to hold a press briefing on Monday to announce a new processor, though a spokesman declined to comment on whether it would be Tukwila.

Development problems have delayed Tukwila's release. Last February, Intel delayed the chip to add a faster interconnect and support for new technologies like DDR3 memory. In October, the release was delayed again to add application scalability enhancements.

Tukwila will most likely launch on Monday, said Nathan Brookwood, principal analyst for Insight 64. It is "more than a little late," but not too late, Brookwood said. The high-end chip market moves at a glacial pace, and complex architectures like Itanium take time to develop and manufacture.

Itanium competes with high-end server processors like Sun's Sparc processor and IBM's Power chip.

"In this class of market, it's more important to get [the chip] right than it is to get it early," Brookwood said. Systems based on high-end architectures like Itanium need to be robust and reliable, he said.

IBM it set to launch the Power7 architecture, so suppliers needed an Itanium update to keep up with IBM, Brookwood said. Intel has not seen much success with the Itanium processor however, with only some vendors like HP offering the chips in systems. However, despite the long lag, there is no uncertainty about Itanium's future. Intel has laid out a six-year roadmap for Itanium, he said.

Tukwila's successor will be Poulson, which will be made using the 32-nanometer process, followed by Kittson. Intel did not provide a timeframe for the Poulson's release. Tukwila chips will be made using the 65-nm process.

Intel is scheduled to launch other server chips in the first half of this year. The most anticipated chip is Nehalem-EX, an eight-core x86 chip targeted at high-end systems running applications such as databases. Nehalem-EX will be Intel's fastest server chip to date, Intel's CEO Paul Otellini has said. Also forthcoming in the next three months are Westmere server chips for low and midrange servers.

Nehalem-EX moves the X86 servers into higher territory, but it doesn't match the software and robustness features of Itanium, Brookwood said. Itanium chips are targeted at mainframe systems like HP's NonStop server line, which are a different class of servers than x86 servers.

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