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Benchmarks put skids under Microsoft's IA-64 pitch

McKinley had better be very, very good

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Microsoft's SQL Server VP Gordon Mangione launched a broadside here against iron age RISC yesterday that signals the first shot in the phony war for McKinley. Of course SQL Server doesn't have any place else to go except McKinley (and it successors) in the long term, as the last surviving RISC port of Windows NT was abandoned a couple of years ago.

Mangione repeated the well worn message that Sun can't keep up with Intel in the long-term. In the short term, though Intel will have trouble keeping up with SPARC, which in current iterations is hardly the speediest enterprise class RISC chip.

In fact Sun doesn't need to look too far to find ammunition: it only needs to cite the most recent Itanic processor benchmarks.

SPEC has published its latest SPECint results for a number of single-processor systems including a Dell Precision 730 running 64-bit XP on a 800Mhz IA-64. The Itanic steams in last with a base figure of 314, 24 per cent slower than the next slowest surveyed this quarter, which as it turns out is a 750Mhz UltraSPARC II Sun Fire box. The best-performing chips return figures North of 600, including Dell's own 1.8Ghz Pentium 4.

Since Sun should have filled its server line with the delayed UltraSPARC III processor later this year, there's little reason for it to be concerned in the short term. What about the longer term? McKinley systems won't appear until the middle of 2002 at the earliest, but Son of Itanic has got a mountain to climb: by then McKinleys will need to be competitive with IBM's POWER4 and higher frequency USIIIs.

Sun has made some interesting decisions in preparing for McKinley: its forthcoming low-end machines share a lot more common components than previous Sun boxes, and it's got what it thinks is an ace up its sleeve in Jalapeno, or UltraSPARC IIIi, the cache-limited (1MB) low-end processor that's expected to debut at 1.4Ghz earlier next year.

Why isn't Sun in rapid rebuttal mode? There's USII to clear yet, before USIII appears across the line. That's a tactical decision: much like deciding where to go for lunch. ®

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