Intel’s Itanium server CPUs shuffle one step closer to the grave

Intel logoWhen last we heard about Intel's Itanium server CPUs, it sounded like Intel was planning a slow, controlled slide into obsolescence for the processors and their accompanying architecture. Kittson, an Itanium revision due in 2015 or so, would be socket-compatible with the company's more popular Xeon CPUs, removing the need for (and, crucially, the R&D costs of) Itanium-specific motherboards and chipsets. Now, Intel appears to be backing down from even those modest plans—PC World has just noticed an Intel posting from late January, saying that Kittson would remain socket-compatible with the current Itanium 9300 and 9500 CPUs.

Sticking a new processor in an older motherboard can still yield speed improvements, but you'll miss out on new, chipset-dependent advancements—support for faster RAM, newer RAM standards (like the upcoming DDR4), and new versions of PCI Express, SATA, and USB, among other thngs. Intel's decision to keep future Itanium revisions on today's chipsets will make it easier to upgrade existing systems, but it won't do much to sell new ones. Intel will also keep Kittson CPUs on its 32nm manufacturing process rather than moving to the more energy efficient 22nm process it uses for its Ivy Bridge CPUs, reflecting a further reluctance to continue investing in the architecture. By the time Kittson ships, this process will be even further behind the curve than it is now.

While Intel told PC World that using the same motherboard and chipsets for Itanium and Xeon "will be evaluated for future implementation opportunities," this is just the latest sign that Itanium is on Intel's back burner—Microsoft's server software no longer supports the architecture and a lawsuit from HP is the only thing keeping Oracle's database software for Itanium alive. Intel introduced the Itanium chips in 2001 as a way for servers to move to 64-bit operating systems that could handle more than 4GB of RAM while also fighting off competing RISC architectures, but the Itanium instruction set didn't maintain backward-compatibility with existing x86 software. In 2003, AMD introduced its first Opteron server CPUs, which implemented 64-bit instructions while maintaining 32-bit compatibility; Intel eventually licensed these instructions for use in its own chips, and Itanium has been in a long, slow decline ever since.

Source: Ars Technica

Tags: CPUs, Intel, Itanium

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