The lateness of Intel's Mercedium

AMD Leaves on the corporate line

Analysis We met at nine. We met at eight. I was on time. No, you were late. Ah yes! I remember it well. -- Alan J. Lerner

Over the last six years of The Register's existence we have written many a tale about Intel's 64-bit platform , formerly known as Merced but now re-christened The Itanic.

Many of those stories have been about delays in the implementation of this processor, which Intel has, almost always, positioned as a chip for the high ground.

Intel's admission that the Itanium platform has slipped a quarter, is by those 28 previous quarters or so, no real big deal.

If our extremely pesky search engine was working as well as it might, we could even point you to a piece by Cliff Loeb, a senior architect at Hewlett Packard, who told us a clear year back that realistically we would see Itanium systems from his company arrive in October of this year -- and they would just be pilot systems.

And earlier this year, a senior server manager at Compaq US told us that his firm was continuing to focus on the symmetric multiprocessing market, à la Proliant eight way systems, and would skip the Itanic for that segment, instead focusing on McKinley, slated to arrive in the second half of next year.

Intel hedged its bets about timing for the Itanium last year, when CEO Craig Barrett said that it would arrive in the second half of this year. Rumours about the firm being unable to clock the brickette-sized microprocessor at the speeds it has publicly stated remain unconfirmed by the price giant.

But while this latest lateness in the arrival of the 64-bit chip can easily be overlooked, there are other, market driven factors which could well provide a virtual iceberg on which the Itanic could founder.

The first of these is AMD's top-secret X86-64 project. AMD, which in some ways is even more paranoid than Intel*, has fenced this project with walls which even The Register and our band of happy moles has not been able to penetrate.

However, the limited info which has leaked on this chip suggests that AMD, as was the case with its Athlon, is pressing ahead and the early indications are looking good.

Jerry Sanders III and AMD, unlike Intel, do not appear to be positioning their Sledgehammer processor directly into the corporate market, but will duck and dive through a window of opportunity that will exist for most of next year, as the Merced brickettes start pouring out of Santa Clara's fabs.

Which brings us neatly on to...Linux. The projected prices Intel will charge for its Itanium platform mean that machines, whether they're pilot machines or otherwise, are gonna cost an arm and a leg, a situation which users of Linux boxes are not going to care for that much. This may well be one way AMD can capitalise on Intel's 64-bit price embarrassment.

We've always been slightly puzzled at The Register why Intel has taken the mainframe approach to the Itanium, apart from the obvious profits the firm can make by undermining big tin in the corporate market. Sixty four bitness is good for games too, init? So if, for example, AMD were to position its X86-64 as the perfect machine for the gamester or pabster, wouldn't it sell bucketloads into that market, just like it did with the Athlon Powers?

This must be causing much head scratching over at Santa Clara, but if it is caught napping by AMD, as it was with the K7, there is going to be precious little sympathy for the devil from Intel shareholders a second time round. ®

* "Sanders decided to proceed on the assumption that Intel was acting in good faith... Sanders was wrong. He would not discover the evidence for several years, but Intel had definitively decided... that it wante the whole technology sharing deal to collapse... A secret internal memo from one senior Intel official to another stated the company's strategy in two succinct bullet points:

  • Assure AMD they are our primary source through regular management contact and format meetings.

  • Take no more AMD products under the current agreement.
  • " -- Intel Inside by Tim Jackson, chapter XXV, referring to a deal Intel and AMD had in 1982. ISBN 0-00-255777-0.