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Intel hopes users see more than double with Montecito

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"They can take our revenue, but they'll never take our freedom!"

That seemed to be the message handed out by Intel and friends today as they dangled the new dual-core Itanium 2 processor in front of press and analysts at an event here in San Francisco. Despite HP eating up 90 per cent of all Itanium server shipments, Itanic backers continue to bang on with the idea that the chip offers more freedom than IBM's Power or Sun Microsystems and Fujitsu's SPARC. It's the freedom plus performance combination that makes Itanium a real winner, we were told.

Don't believe us? Well, here you go.

"Today is about freedom," said Kirk Skaugen, an enterprise VP at Intel.

"Everybody who is anybody in mission critical computing is participating with our efforts here," added Pat Gelsinger, an enterprise SVP at Intel.

"Really that is what the Itanium architecture is about. It's about the presence we have with the mission critical computing companies of the industry."

To back up these statements, Intel showed off seven, massive boxes from HP, Hitachi, SGI, EC, Bull, Fujitsu and Unisys. All told, close to a ton of hardware was displayed on the stage at the Four Seasons Hotel, requiring the stage platform to be reinforced.

The impressive hardware parade helped pull attention away from the fact that Montectio is close to a year late. It will ship in volume next month.

There are six flavors of the new chip – all quite zippy. At the high-end, Intel has the monster 9050 that runs at 1.6GHz with 24MB of Level 3 cache. That chips costs $3,692 in volume. Next is the 1.6Hz (18MB) 9040 at $1,980, the 1.6GHz (8MB) 9030 for $1,552, the 1.42GHz (12MB) 9020 for $910 and the 1.4GHz (12MB) 9015 for $749. There's also a single-core version 9010 that runs at 1.6GH with 6MB of cache for $696.

All told, Intel expects customers to see double the performance with the new chip and a 20 per cent reduction in power. The performance benchmarks dished out by Intel appear to show Montectio having a slight edge over Power5+ and a significant edge over SPARC. IBM may close the gap later this month with its update to the Power5+ chip.

You can understand the OEMs' excitement for Montecito. They've been waiting an awful long time for this chip, and the delay has come close to crippling a few vendors' high-end server lines, as evidenced by SGI's bankruptcy woes.

Still, we find the "Itanium ecosystem's" giddiness hard to swallow given HP's dominance in the market. It's fine to say there's freedom, but difficult to defend the claim when market share figures don't support the premise.

When pressed by us, Gelsinger seemed hopeful that the Itanium market would expand beyond HP.

"We expect the shipments will become greater for the vendors moving forward," he said.

Just last month, Gelsinger confessed that he hasn't always been "an Itanium backer", although he's now more fond of the chip due to rising sales at HP.

HP's Itanium guru Brian Cox told us that Montectio will soon be available across the company's Integrity line and that a new blade might emerge by the end of the year. Cox also bragged about Itanium's obvious success in Japan.

Gelsinger too celebrated Itanium's geographic prowess.

"We are literally embarrassing Sun in Russia," he said.

Grr.

There's no question that HP's enterprise team will sleep easier tonight, knowing that Intel has finally shipped the impressive Itanic upgrade. And we expect HP's Itanium sales to spike in the coming months due to the flashy chip and pent up demand.

We will not, however, back Intel's notion of freedom or the idea that all the important players in the mainframe world are behind Itanic. Intel may be able to ignore Sun and IBM, but the rest of the world can't. ®

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