Intel's newest chips might be good for your computer – even though they're not actually going into your machine. The new Itanium 9500 processors, launched by the chip manufacturer today, are designed for the likes of mission-critical data centers.
Why should you care? It's very simple: these are exactly the kinds of installations becoming more and more common now that so many of us are doing so much of our computing in the cloud. And if you work for a company that uses a data center in any way, you'll be interested to know that a number of Intel partners already boast machines with Itanium 9500 series chips at their hearts. These partners include such obscure names as Hewlett-Packard, NEC, Hitachi, Bull (based in France) and Inspur (based in China).
You may have heard of chips codenamed Poulson; they evolved into the Itanium 9500. And they're designed for companies that want to evolve their computing architecture from a RISC and mainframe infrastructure to something else that can handle the same kind of mission-critical computing that must work all the time under all kinds of loads. The need for systems that can stand up to that kind of work load is not going away; if anything, it's getting more intense.
As Intel Datacenter and Connected Systems group general manager Diane Bryant stated, “In a world where businesses are increasingly dependent on IT for their competitive advantage, more and more business applications are rightfully called 'mission critical' – they must be always available, highly responsive and extremely reliable. It's for precisely these computing workloads that we've developed the Intel Itanium 9500 processor.”
If you can stand to go through a 166-page datasheet that also covers the Itanium 9300 processors, you'll find out more than you ever wanted to know about the new chips. These eight-core wonders boast two threads per core, and each of these 64-bit processing cores can execute up to twelve instructions per cycle. Core frequency for the chips is now 2.53 GHz, and these rascals sip power when they're waiting for something to happen: idle power draw is only 20 percent of what it used to be in the previous generation.
Intel executive Rory McInerny pointed out that parallelism plays a major theme in the Itanium 9500 chips. It extends to the thread, core, memory, and instruction levels. These factors contribute to making the processor very fast, delivering more than twice the performance of older Itaniums.
Intel wouldn't dream of neglecting reliability for the sake of speed, however. The Itanium's Reliability, Availability, and Serviceability (RAS) safeguards include end-to-end error detection; on-chip thermal management and power management; memory DIMM and rank sparing, memory scrubbing, memory mirroring, and memory migration; several Intel QuickPath Interconnect features; and, to be honest, too many more to list.
One new RAS feature you'll find only in the Itanium 9500 is Intel Instruction Replay Technology. This technology “resolves stall conditions that occur when the microprocessor pipeline encounters a resource hazard that prevents immediate execution,” Intel explains in its datasheet on the chip. Basically, instructions that encounter problems, along with those following them, are held in a buffer until the hazard is removed, and then replayed and re-executed. If necessary, they can be replayed multiple times. “With this technology, soft errors can be identified and corrected in as few as seven clock cycles, which is fast enough to be invisible to the software running on the platform,” Intel notes.
So does this latest release put paid to all the rumors that Intel is not committed to the Itanium platform? Yes and no. PC Magazine mentioned that Intel unveiled an interesting roadmap for the Itanium at a San Francisco press conference. The roadmap was titled the “Modular Development Model” and was supposed to enable “deeper commonality between Intel Itanium and the Intel Xeon processor E7 family.”
The only roadmap I could find on Intel's website featuring the Itanium didn't exactly show it and the Xeon converging, though that “commonality” hinted at seemed quite apparent from a close look at the platform descriptions. Even so, the road map did show a future processor in the Itanium family, dubbed Kittson, coming in right after 2014. It also showed the Itanium and Xeon chips belonging to the same mission-critical level “grouping,” and possibly a more solid future for the Xeon chips. Whatever platform Intel intends to use going forward, it is likely to be informed by what the chip manufacturer has learned from both the Itanium and the Xeon – and one hopes it might be the best of both worlds. At least until 2014 and beyond, however, it looks like the Itanium isn't going away.
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