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Itanium processors

Processing the enterprise

The Itanium represents a major shift for Intel, away from its 32-bit (IA-32) design into the world of 64-bit (IA-64) computing. The Itanium is aimed at the high-end server segment, an area dominated by Sun's UltraSPARC and other RISC-based processors. Narendra Bhandari, Intel APAC Regional Manager- Strategic Relations, Internet Solutions Group tells us the technological benefits of the Itanium and Xeon architecture and how he feels that enterprises will benefit out of it. by Soutiman Das Gupta and Minu Sirsalewala

EPIC technology provides the ability to execute more operations simultaneously

Why have Intel's processors moved from 32-bit to 64-bit architecture?
32-bit processors are quite suitable for enterprise computing but have certain limitations in areas of memory latency and dynamic execution of instructions. The new IA-64 architecture improves memory addressability and overall system bandwidth, which was a problem with previous Xeon server implementations. This made Xeon servers suitable for small office implementation but not very preferred for enterprise use. To stay in competition we needed to move to a full 64-bit design.

What benefits does the 64-bit Itanium processor provide to enterprises?
Large enterprises and online stores that run huge databases and data mining applications can take advantage of a large cache memory in the processor. 64-bit addressability allows you to process or transmit a large amount of data in parallel.

Itanium's EPIC (Explicitly Parallel Instruction Computing) technology provides the ability to execute more operations simultaneously. This can speed data queries and transactions up to 16 TB of data. Itanium abandons conventional CISC (Complex Instruction Set Computer) or RISC (Reduced Instruction Set Computer) instruction sets for EPIC technology.

The main benefit of EPIC is to provide greater potentials for instruction-level parallelism, prediction and speculation. This means, the EPIC code can be highly optimized to allow faster processing and achieve higher returns with multiprocessor systems. The Itanium architecture can scale up to 512 processors.

What is Itanium's design philosophy?
The Itanium design philosophy is to put IA-64 and EPIC at the forefront. But, it ensures that enterprises already using legacy IA-32 architecture will not have hardware compatibility problems with the new architecture. However the physical design is slightly different than its IA-32 predecessors.

The Itanium has a speed of 733 MHz and 800 MHz, uses a 266 MHz-(133x2)-system bus which can afford overall system bandwidth of 2.1 Gbps. It features three levels of internal CPU cache, with a 32 Kb Level 1, 96 Kb Level 2, and either a 2 MB or 4 MB Level 3 cache. A floating-point engine allows complex computations that may be required in data mining, scientific and technical computing applications.

How does the Itanium help high-end server computing?
The Itanium and Intel's current i460 GX chipset supports up to 64 GB of addressable system memory consisting of PC 100 SDRAM (Synchronous Dynamic RAM). The large memory size allows Itanium to tackle large databases, transactions, and CAD/CGI (Computer Aided Design/Common Gateway Interface) applications.

The memory bandwidth scales to 4.2 Gbps.

If transactions on your servers take too long, the 64-bit architecture can support faster queries and real time data mining. It also facilitates smooth OLTP (OnLine Transaction Processing) during peak traffic. This ensures optimal performance of your servers. Tests have shown that Itanium-based systems can provide up to twelve-fold performance improvement for online security transactions over proprietary RISC designs.

What are the enhanced features in the Xeon processors that support enterprise computing?
The most promising feature of the Xeon processor is the NetBurst microarchitecture. The architecture is used to deliver processing power for video, audio, latest Internet technologies and 3-D graphics. The Intel Xeon processor platform is based on the Intel 860 Chipset. The chipset features dual RDRAM (Rambus Dynamic RAM) memory banks to complement the Intel Xeon's 400 MHz system bus. RDRAM is a type of DRAM developed by Rambus Inc. Since 1999, Intel has been using RDRAM in its PIII Xeon processors and more recently in its P4 processors. It is specially designed to meet the scalability, availability and manageability needs of the high-performance workstation market segment. Depending on applications and configurations, Xeon-based workstations have achieved increase in performance between 30 and 90 percent over systems featuring the PIII Xeon processor.

Which operating systems will be able to take advantage of the Itanium's 64-bit EPIC architecture?
The Itanium architecture is compatible with most OSs. It can run on Windows-based platforms, HP-UX 11i v 1.5 (HP's proprietary Unix variant), AIX-5L (IBM's proprietary Unix variant) and Linux. Other companies like Caldera, Red Hat, SuSE Linux and TurboLinux plan to provide 64-bit versions of the Linux OS. Microsoft is also working on a 64-bit version of Windows that will be able to take advantage of this new architecture.

What kind of support have Itanium received from vendors worldwide?
HP is one of the first system vendors to support the Itanium architecture. After all it has co-developed the architecture with us. The company has a selection of Itanium workstations and servers that range from single processor desktops to loaded 16-way servers. Dell has announced numerous Itanium configurations in its products. I expect many other computer manufacturers to offer numerous configurations by the end of this year.

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