The release of Intels 64 bit Itanium processor is getting closer and closer, very soon we'll see the pilot release of 733 and 800MHz systems. Intel has been quite secretive about the performance of the chip and the few machines that are at this moment lent to software developers are heavily guarded, not just physically, but also by threats of lawsuits in non-disclosure agreements. But being Tweakers we are naturally curious about the Itanium. What kind of processor is it? Why has it taken Intel such a long time? What are the future plans for it?
The answers to a number of these questions can now be found on the internet because there are many presentations by Intel and HP to be found. Hardly anyone knows how fast it is though...
Tweakers.net got an opportunity to see an Itanium system up close some time ago and of course we couldn't pass up an opportunity like that. Daniel and Wouter equipped with benchmarksoftware and laptops traveled to a secret location somewhere in Europe to do a number of tests. By reading this sneak preview you'll find answers to questions that were previously only known to a select few software developers, Intel and HP.
Before heading over to the benchmarks we'll present a few pages of explanation about the cpu itself because the Itanium is not just another turbo-charged Pentium Pro, it's a 64 bit processor that was developed from the ground up. 64 bit processors are nothing new, Digital released the 100MHz Alpha 21064 in 1992, quickly followed by Sun, IBM and HP. Intel was of the opinion that the time wasn't ripe yet for 64 bit processors though, the advantages were much smaller than the disadvantages and additional design costs, it was complete overkill for that time. Intel decided to wait and make its 64 bit processor something nice, something really new.
Six years ago Intel started an ambitious project in cooperation with HP. Management had decided that not only were they going to migrate to 64 bit, it was going to be a completely new architecture as well. In 1994 therefore Intel started its biggest project ever. The goal: designing a new 64 bit architecture, the biggest improvement in cputechnology since the 386. The budget: billions.
The designers of Intel and HP got unprecedented freedom, all important new ideas to design a fast efficient processor that had surfaced over decades of experience could be applied. Normally the application of revolutionary ideas was virtually impossible because an important goal for a new design was backward compatibility. That's usefull for the user but not for designers. The higher the speeds became and the larger the number of features that had to be incorporated, the more problems surfaced with regards to the increasingly aging IA-32 architecture.