McKinley’s uphill battle

Intel Corp. is expected to kick off its annual Developer Forum on Monday by making a strong play for the server and workstation market, demonstrating the second generation of its 64-bit Itanium line and a number of server chipsets.


four-day event, which will gather developers at the Moscone Center in San Francisco, will also likely include demonstrations of the firm’s Xscale core, which is designed to conserve power while increasing performance. Analysts expect Intel to release new Xeon chips for workstations and to discuss an architecture called Infiband, which connects servers with remote storage and networking devices.

Nathan Brookwood, an analyst with Insight 64, said the spotlight will be focused primarily on McKinley, Intel’s followup to the Merced version of the IA-64 Itanium series of high-end processors.

Though Intel already has 80 to 90 per cent of the server market as measured by units, Brookwood said IDF 2002 will mark Intel’s attempt to solidfy its position in the communications and networking markets.

“”The thing that has kept Intel from participating in the high end is the inability of those 32-bit processors to deal with very large memory structures,”” he said. “”If you look at a Sun system or an IBM Power system that’s going out the door today, those are often going out with 32GB of memory, 64GB of memory. Applications like Oracle or some of these glass-house type of applications really need this large physical memory to improve performance or in some cases just to deliver raw functionality.””

McKinley is Intel’s biggest chip ever — not in market share, but in sheer size. The 221 million-transistor product covers 464 square millimetres, which is necessary for the vast amounts of cache that Intel will include in the chip. This includes 32KB level one cache, 256KB level two cache and 3MB level three cache. “”It’s as big as you can make them,”” Brookwood said.

But size won’t necessarily translate into sales, according to some integrators.

“”To be honest, my company has been assembling 98 per cent AMD boxes,”” said Frank Goluza, president of system integrator The Upgrade Path in Victoria, B.C. “”The most recent server we put in was for a satellite mapping company. They requested a 2 GHz AMD because they’re also very value-conscious.””

Brookwood said Merced was recognized as a prototyping vehicle as opposed to the first serious product that customers could deploy, which might explain slower sales. But Intel may also have to contend with reticent enterprise buying habits, he said, particularly in a recession where many purchases are being put on hold.

“”People who buy servers are very conservative,”” he said. “”They don’t want to be the first guy on the block to buy an Intel 64-bit system,”” he said. “”They’re letting other people do the experimentation and find out what these are good for or not.””

Peter de Fauw, CEO of Prince George, B.C.-based Defau Systems & Services, agreed.

“”A lot of my clients are trying to maximize the performance of the systems they have invested in, even in the last year, to go to a multiple CPU environment and stay with the latest SCSI standard,”” he said. “”For the longest time we’ve used boards to support the Pentium III configuration in favour of the P4.””

Intel, which developed the IA-64 platform in partnership with Hewlett-Packard, has had difficulty keeping up with its own Itanium product roadmap. Merced was originally set for release in 1998 or 1999, but did not show up until last year.

“”If it had shown up in 1999, it would have had incredibly competitive performance,”” Brookwood said. “”As it was . . . it was kind of ho-hum.””

McKinley could change that, de Fauw said, depending on how the processor speeds or improves the performance of key applications.

“”I have clients who have some fairly large graphics that they are moving,”” he said. “”In those cases there is no doubt that it would be of benefit to them, more so than a dual CPU environment.””

Intel president Craig Barrett is scheduled to deliver the keynote address at IDF 2002 Monday afternoon. The conference will also feature a range of technical briefings and a technology showcase featuring 180 companies that will demonstrate products matching the theme, “”Advance the Digital Universe.””

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