The company hopes to attract users to the new platform by claiming better price performance over Unix systems. Mike Fister, senior vice-president and general manager for Intel's Enterprise Platforms Group, said: "2002 will be the year the Itanium processor family makes real headway towards becoming the platform of choice in high-end data centre computing."
Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Unisys and Fujitsu Siemens have announced they will build servers based on the new chip. Notable by its absence is Dell, which said last week that it expected little demand from its users for the new high-end Itanium 2 processor. Operating systems support includes Microsoft Windows, HP-UX, and Red Hat Linux. A number of software companies including Oracle, BEA Systems and SAP are also building 64-bit software for the new chip.
Intel's first 64-bit chip, launched in May last year, for the most part failed to impress. It was released behind schedule, its performance was lacking, and systems and software on offer were too new to inspire confidence among end users, analysts said. Server vendors were also wary of designing servers around an architecture that was expected to change a year later with the release of the current chip.
With version 2, Itanium looks more compelling. Thanks to several design improvements, Itanium 2 should perform as much as 50% to 100% better than its predecessor, according to Intel test results, although these have yet to be verified independently.
The enhancements should boost the performance of large databases, business intelligence software, ERP (enterprise resource planning) applications, engineering design programs and other software, Mike Graf, Intel's product line manager for Itanium 2, said.
Three versions of the processor have been unveiled: A 1GHz chip with 3Mbytes of Level 3 cache carries a list price of $4,226 (£2,758); a 1 GHz chip with 1.5Mbytes of Level 3 cache is priced at $2,247 (£1,467) and a 900MHz chip with 1.5Mbytes of Level 3 cache is priced at $1,338 (£873).
HP, which is one of Itanium 2's biggest backers, has already tuned a version of its HP-UX operating system for the chip and will offer a server with two Itanium 2 processors and up to 12Gbytes of memory priced from $6,730 (£4,392). A system with four processors and 48Gbytes of memory will be launched in August starting at $21,000 (£13,705).