Intel: Itanium, Xeon to be interchangeable

Goal is to drive down cost of systems built with Itanium 2

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- In a move to drive down the cost of systems built with its Itanium 2 microprocessor, Intel Corp. plans to make future versions of its Xeon and Itanium processors interchangeable at the socket level, the company confirmed on Tuesday.

In the next few years, the company will work on a "common platform so that Itanium and Xeon processors are interchangeable at a socket level," said David Kuck, a manager with Intel's Software & Solutions Group, speaking at the ClusterWorld conference here.

Intel came up with the idea of interchangeable Xeon and Itanium architectures in January, Intel spokesman Scott McLaughlin said after Kuck's presentation. "Our goal is by 2007 to have Itanium- or Xeon-based systems using the identical components," he said.

In February, Intel executives had talked about making the cost of building Itanium and Xeon systems identical, but until Tuesday the company had declined to say how it would achieve this.

Today, Itanium and Xeon systems are build with different components, including different chipsets and motherboards. If the two processors were interchangeable at a socket level, it would allow system vendors to use identical components for both, thus reducing the cost of Itanium systems, which are typically more expensive than their Xeon counterparts.

"Since Itanium is never going to have the kind of volume that Xeon has, then one strategy for getting the cost of the platform to be the same for Itanium and Xeon is to use the same infrastructure," said Nathan Brookwood, an analyst with industry research company Insight 64, based in Saratoga, California.

The approach should, in particular, drive down the cost of single-processor and dual-processor Itanium, where system makers will now be able to use inexpensive chipsets and motherboards, Brookwood said. It may also make Xeon systems more readily available in the higher end configurations favored by Itanium users, he said.

Brookwood expects Intel to create a new form factor for the interchangeable Itanium and Xeon processors rather than trying to adapt Itanium to be interchangeable with Xeon components or vice versa.

He said the first chip that could conceivably be designed to be interchangeable would be the Itanium 2 multicore chip, code named Tukwila, which is expected around 2007.

One system vendor at the show was skeptical of the idea. "Itanium by definition goes into systems that are intrinsically more expensive, so probably the whole system is tuned for the performance of Itanium," said Enrico Pesatori, president and CEO of San Francisco's Penguin Computing Inc. "It doesn't seem like an impressive idea."

The Intel spokesman disagreed, arguing that the move would drive down Itanium prices and simplify system development.

"I see it as us trying to simplify things for customers," he said.

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