Intel cuts back Itanium plans, raising questions about chip's future

The upcoming Kittson chip will no longer be manufactured on a new process or be socket-compatible with Intel's Xeon

By , IDG News Service |  Hardware

An Intel spokesman said a combination of factors led to the changes, including declines in the overall Unix systems market, of which HP-UX is a part. The revised roadmap also "answers certain requirements of our customers," the spokesman said, though he declined to elaborate. HP is by far Intel's biggest customer for Itanium.

HP declined to discuss the matter but said in a statement that it remains committed to its Integrity products, including a new line of Kittson-based systems.

"The recent statement by Intel has no impact on those plans or on HP's ongoing commitment to our mission-critical customers," HP said. A spokesman confirmed that HP continues to develop Dragon Hawk, the system that will accommodate both Xeon and Itanium blades. HP may now feel compelled to accelerate development of that system, Brookwood said.

Intel painted the decision as a positive one for customers. Because Kittson will now be socket-compatible with current Itanium chips, upgrading existing systems will be much easier.

But it's unclear what the cost will be in performance. The latest Itanium chip released in November, known as Poulson, included significant architectural changes, and Kittson was expected to benefit primarily from the new manufacturing process, which produces faster, more energy-efficient transistors.

Intel won't discuss details of Kittson, noting it isn't due for release for two to three years. "It's going to be better, obviously, but we haven't discussed how much better," the Intel spokesman said. Manufacturing improvements can be made, even within the context of the current process, he said.

Brookwood said Intel and HP could go on tweaking Kittson's architecture for years, giving customers a stream of minor improvements. But he was disappointed to see both the process shrink and the Xeon socket compatibility being shelved.

"This clearly suggests some backing off," he said.

James Niccolai covers data centers and general technology news for IDG News Service. Follow James on Twitter at @jniccolai. James's e-mail address is james_niccolai@idg.com

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