Should It Be Renamed 'Unobtainium'?

  • Written By: R. Krause
  • Published: August 2 2000

Should It Be Renamed 'Unobtainium'?
R. Krause - August 2, 2000

Event Summary

Intel executives have said in a financial briefing during July that Intel will push back the release of its 64-bit Itanium processor (formerly known as "Merced"), recently slated for October, 2000, by a quarter. This means the first Itanium-based products should not arrive until early in 2001 - somewhat later than the original schedule of 1999. The first products are expected to be servers and workstations.

Market Impact

This is not really a big surprise - we've known systems engineers/designers who, after an Intel rep discloses what the planned ship date is, ask "OK, but when's it really going to ship?" - or they add a 9-12 months to the Intel date.

The turn of events benefits at least three companies and one group: AMD, Compaq, Microsoft and the Trillian/Linux community.

AMD gets some more breathing room for their 64-bit "Sledgehammer" CPU. Although Intel has the lead in mindshare for the 64-bit market (excluding the Unix/Solaris/etc. markets), vulnerabilities have been appearing in recent months. AMD's design capabilities have improved (witness Athlon performance), so Intel domination is no longer a "slam dunk".

Compaq's Alpha chip gets a little more life, although we believe this is just delaying its likely demise. Alpha can still be saved from the "great technology no longer produced" heap, but it will take a strong, concerted effort by Compaq, and it will mean focusing on volume platforms, not the high-end machines such as Wildfire. (Compaq has indicated they still want to keep Alpha alive.) The AlphaServer DS10L is intriguing at 1U (one rack unit), but the available performance figures are unimpressive, given the Alpha's purported power.

Microsoft gains in a different way: 64-bit Windows (W64) is not ready, so the Itanium delay helps reduce the gap between hardware availability and OS/application availability. Although Microsoft does not have a reputation for delivering new OSes on time (at least, not to the "original" schedule), a big gap might provide the Linux community with even more ammunition than it currently has.

Trillian/Linux gains a little more time for developers to produce 64-bit applications. Although they started their 64-bit race a little later than Microsoft, it is still not clear who will get there first with usable applications and OS.

If enough additional delays occur, people may start to question the value of an Itanium release, and may decide to wait until "McKinley", the Itanium/Merced follow-on (presently) scheduled for release in 2001. Unfortunately for some manufacturers - those who are key Intel partners - they are pretty much locked into Itanium.

User Recommendations

Users waiting for 64-bit Intel architecture will need to wait at least a few months longer. If they are committed to Intel-only, then they will just have to put up with the delay.

Those users who want 64-bit power, but have no special loyalty to Intel (or who have no platform preference), should review the other offerings, such as those from Compaq (Alpha only), Sun, and HP (PA-RISC).

Those users who are content with 32-bit computing (gasp!) can keep on using current systems, and wait for the dust to settle.

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