Originally Published: Saturday, 2 September 2000 Author: Aaron Blew
Published to: featured_articles/Featured Articles Page: 1/1 - [Std View]

Itanium - Late for Dinner?

Intel has delayed the launch of the Merced (now called 'Itanium') several times. Investors are most likely starting to lose confidence in a technology that, according to Intel, has been in the works since 1994. Presently, I don't think that I would buy an Itanium, even if it came out tomorrow and I had the cash for it. Here's why...

The date is October 9, 1997. Intel has just made the first major announcement detailing their upcoming 64-bit architecture. They're calling it "Merced", and it looks like it'll be a very nice chip when it's finally released in 1999.

Flash forward to today. Intel has delayed the launch of the Merced (now called 'Itanium') several times. Investors are most likely starting to lose confidence in a technology that, according to Intel, has been in the works since 1994. Presently, I don't think that I would buy an Itanium, even if it came out tomorrow and I had the cash for it. Why? First, if you choose an Itanium, you have to recompile all your programs for the 64-bit architecture. If you run an open source platform, this isn't as much of a problem, as you can recompile things freely. Still, your operating system has to support the 64-bit instructions relative to that chip. With non open source operating systems (such as Windows), you would have to wait for the 64-bit revision of your OS to come out, not to mention the 64-bit versions of your favorite programs. This is why Intel is targeting the Itanium at high-end servers, where the extra bits will actually make a difference. AMD's decision to leave the legacy instructions in the Sledgehammer and the other 'hammer' chips leaves the door open for the newer 64-bit programs, while allowing the use of your existing applications.

Another troubling issue is that the Itanium has been delayed time after time. At the Linux World Expo in San Jose, a few companies, including NEC, showed off Itanium systems running Linux. Naturally, people were asking how fast these chips were running. While they were unable to get a precise figure, it was clear that they weren't running as fast as Intel had been promising, which is about 700-800MHz.

Price is another factor. Look at this article, and check out the prices. The lowest priced chip is over $1000, and you would still have to buy a compatible motherboard, which would run about $500. While I don't know the pricing scheme for the Sledgehammer chips, I'm willing to bet that it will be about half as much, if not less, than Intel's offerings. For example, look at the current prices of 1GHz chips from both Intel and AMD. Intel's 1GHz chips are all going for about $1000, while AMD 1GHz chips (that are a bit faster) are going for less than half that (about $480, last time I checked).

As you can see, I will most likely choose AMD's 64-bit solution. Then again, I most likely won't go with any 64-bit solution unless the 32-bit programs that I use offer substantially higher performance when recompiled or re-engineered for a 64-bit platform. On the other hand, if I were running a huge website that needed a lot of processing power (i.e. Fortune 500 companies, eBay, etc.), and my back-end software would really benefit from the extra bits, (such as Oracle would under a heavy load), then I might consider moving to a Hammer/Itanium platform.