The company has opted for slightly higher clock speeds and more level 3 cache instead of new processor architectures to improve power. Beefing up the cache is an interim step until the dual-core Montecedo version of the Itanium chip launches next year, said Intel's enterprise marketing manager Adam Martin.
Increasing the cache by a third to 9Mbytes and bringing the top-end frequency to 1.6GHz boosted the performance of the chip by a fifth compared to an existing 1.5GHz Itanium 2 processor with 6Mbytes level 3 cache, he said. Martin cited transaction processing performance figures from Hewlett-Packard, which ran the tests on an Integrity RX4640 server.
"This launch refreshes the existing price points," said Martin. "On our server roadmaps we tend to hold stable price points, so what you see now is more performance at the same price."
The move left analysts unimpressed. Jim McGregor, principal analyst at research company In-Stat/MDR, said the Itanium processor had poor prospects since users were buying larger numbers of simpler, lower-powered processors to handle computing tasks.
"Adding more cache gives it an incremental performance increase, but nothing monumental," he said.
McGregor added that blade servers represent a long-term threat to the Itanium chip. "Even if you are a small company, being able to buy a single chassis with hot-swappable drives gives you a much simpler design. And the fact that you will have redundancy and a more robust system that will fit into a much smaller space is a huge benefit."
New versions of the chip have 9Mbyte, 6Mbyte, 4Mbyte and 3Mbyte cache configurations. The frequency of the new processors ranges from 1.6GHz down to a 1.3GHz low-voltage version designed for high density computing. "They are not for blade servers, but definitely for rack systems," said Martin.
The Itanium got off to a shaky start following its 2001 launch, but Martin said that 2,000 applications are now optimised to run on the Itanium platform. The new processors were launched jointly with HP, which designed the original Itanium architecture with Intel in the 1990s, but dropped Itanium from its line of workstations in September.