Intel's flagship goes dual-core

Santa Clara (CA) - During its five years of existence, the Itanium processor never achieved the glory Intel was hoping for: Itanium has to deal with stiff competition and critics still call it the "Itanic". But Intel holds on to its problem child and sends it into another round: Montecito has two cores and, according top Intel, is twice as fast as the previous single-core.

If you were to meet some people of Intel's enterprise team today, you'd probably some very relieved looking faces. After a number of delays and technology downgrades, Intel finally got the next generation Itanium out of the gate. Called the Itanium 2 9000 series, the previously code-named "Montecito" processor uses two cores to take another shot at the RISC-based competition.

According to Intel, the new CPUs offer 2.5 times the performance-per-watt of the preceding generation. In terms of plain performance, Montecito buyers are promised about twice the speed and three times the performance bandwidth of the previous single-core Itanium 2s. Montecito also is the first Itanium to integrate Intel's virtualization technology.

Intel is offering five dual-core Itanium 2 processors at launch, ranging from 1.4 to 1.6 GHz in clock speed and 8 to 24 MB of L3 cache. With the exception of the entry-level 1.4 GHz/12 MB model, which runs on FSB400, all new Itaniums are FSB400/533 capable. Prices range from $749 for the 9015 to $3692 for the 9050. Roughly five times the price of the 9015 buys not only more clock speed and more cache but also Hyperthreading to run four instead of only two threads in parallel. Compared to the previous Itanium 2 single cores, the dual-cores are cheap in comparison: The former top-of the line 1.66 GHz/9M model sold for $4226; the 1.3 GHz/3M chip sold for $910.

There is also a single core Itanium 2 9010, which is marketed as a low power variant for dense server environments. The 9010 runs at 1.6 GHz, comes with 6 MB L3 cache, FSB400/533, is rated at a TDP of 75 watts and is priced at $696.

With the arrival of Montecito, most of the preceding Itanium 2 models are dead. The complete 9M, 6M 4M and 3M line has been retired. The only remaining processors are two DP models running at 1.6 GHz: The chips are available in a FSB400 and FSB533 version and are priced at $530.