2 February 2004 Intel is to revamp its high-end Xeon and Pentium 4 microprocessors, introducing a number of 64-bit features, in a move that will place a huge question mark over the future of its pure 64-bit Itanium chip.
The strategic shift is expected to be announced in mid-February. It follows the success of rival Advanced Micro Devices’ (AMD) Opteron microprocessor, a 64-bit alternative to Itanium that also boasts backwards compatibility with 32-bit Intel-compatible chips.
Intel’s decision to add new 64-bit features, dubbed “CT” technology, would vastly increase the memory that an ‘x86’ chip, such as the company’s Xeon and Pentium, could handle.
However, analysts forecast that AMD will maintain its early market lead. “AMD is there early and have a head start,” said Nathan Brookwood, a technology analyst with Insight 64. Although released a year later, Opteron is already outselling Itanium at a rate of two-to-one.
Intel’s decision to focus on the 32-bit Xeon clashes with the company’s earlier hopes of large-scale Itanium sales, enabling the company to dominate the market from top to bottom.
Some analysts have even suggested that the revamp would send out the message to prospective Itanium customers that they should put their purchases on hold. Peter Glaskowsky, editor in chief of In-Stat/MDR’s Microprocessor Report believes that in the long-run, Intel’s decision could end up killing Itanium.
The revamp is bad news for companies such as Hewlett-Packard and SGI, which have strongly supported Itanium. HP, of course, was one of Itanium’s co-designers, but even it has belatedly adopted Opteron.
The Itanium has been a huge disappointment for Intel. Original forecasts from analysts IDC suggested sales of Itanium-based systems of $28 billion for 2004. It has since slashed that forecast to $7.5 billion.
News of the revamp coincides with the unveiling of Intel’s new line of Pentium microchips, code-named Prescott. Built to 0.09 micron process technology, compared to the 0.13 microns of current Pentiums, the chips will debut at speeds of 3.2 Gigahertz.