Intel plans nine flavors of ‘Montecito’ Itanium

Intel is expected to begin the introduction of its “Montecito” processors with three models running at 1.6GHz and 1.4GHz, but by the end of the first half of next year, at least six more are scheduled to arrive. The broad portfolio is shown in an Intel road map seen by CNET News.com. The plan also shows an even broader portfolio of Xeons, a vastly more popular server chip that unlike Itanium can run the same software as other x86 chips such as Pentiums.

The road map also shows that Itanium clock speeds will get a 200MHz boost from the addition of Intel’s new “Foxton” technology, which lets chips run faster as long as they don’t get too hot. Montecito, the first major redesign of Itanium in years, is the first in the family to come with two processing engines on one slice of silicon–a design called dual-core that rival chips from Sun Microsystems and IBM have had for years. Despite the significant change, Intel is retaining the Itanium 2 moniker, though augmented with a 9000-series numbering scheme. Intel declined to comment for this story.

The Santa Clara, Calif.-based chipmaker plans to ship Montecito in limited quantities this year, with full volume beginning in the first quarter of 2006. But the chip family was hit by delays, poor initial performance and software incompatibilities, and Intel has struggled to achieve mainstream acceptance.

“Montecito is a fundamentally new, true dual-core design. It does get significant performance advantages over the previous single-core parts,” said Peter Glaskowsky, an analyst at Envisioneering Group and system architect at MemoryLogix. Unfortunately for Intel, though, there are many fewer customers for the chip than the company would like, he added.

In the meantime, Sun and IBM have grown more aggressive, releasing new UltraSparc and Power models that, like Montecito, use an improved manufacturing process with 90-nanometer features. And AMD has had success bringing higher-end features to x86 with its Opteron server chip.

Hewlett-Packard, which initiated the Itanium project and co-developed the initial chips, is the major Itanium server seller, though Unisys, Silicon Graphics, NEC, Hitachi and Fujitsu also offer machines with the chip. IBM and Dell have dropped Itanium-based products from their server lines.

But Intel isn’t shying away from the Itanium challenge. After the Montecito models in the first half of 2006, the company will release a revamp code-named Montvale in the second half.

The first three Montecitos, the single-core 1.6GHz 9010, dual-core 1.4GHz 9020 and dual-core 1.6GHz 9040, will get a Foxton bump to 1.8GHz, 1.6GHz and 1.8GHz, respectively, the road map said.

The 9020 and 9040 have 18MB of on-board high-speed cache memory, while the 9010 has 6MB, according to the road map.

In addition, Intel is working on a low-voltage dual-core Montecito model, the 9018, with a speed of 1.2GHz, a Foxton boost up to 1.4GHz, 12MB of cache and a 400MHz bus, the road map said. It’s also due in the second quarter and consumes a maximum of 62 watts, considerably less than the 130-watt peak of the higher-end Itanium models.

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