Hardware Today: End of the Road for Intel's Madison

by Drew Robb

Intel's recent updates to its Itanium 2 processor line mark the end of the road for Madison chips. We survey the current landscape and look ahead to Montecito, Montvale, and Tukwila — the next landmarks on the road map.

Intel's updates to its Itanium 2 processor line announced earlier this month mark the end of the road for Madison chips. Madison chips maxed out at 1.6 GHz and 9 MB of Level 3 cache in their latest iteration and will now make way for future Itanium releases bearing the Montecito, Montvale, and Tukwila (formerly code named Tanglewood) monikers. Whether these chips will continue to wear the Itanium 2 tag or will be christened Itanium 3 and Itanium 4, remains to be seen, however.

During Madison's tenure, Intel greatly extended the application reach of its Itanium line. Itanium is now deployed at 40 of the 100 largest enterprises in the world, including 9 of the top 10.

"The last generation of Madison Itanium 2 processors has 0.13 micron process technology," said Scott Smith, a spokesperson for Intel server processors. "Montecito is the next generation of Itanium processors and will have 90 nanometer process technology." (Note: "Process technology" refers to the width of the circuit paths in the processor.)

Madison Upgrades

During Madison's tenure, Intel greatly extended the application reach of its Itanium line. As a result, many more enterprises adopted the technology. Itanium is now deployed at 40 of the 100 largest enterprises in the world, including 9 of the top 10. In terms of sales, more than 100,000 Itanium processors were sold in 2003, and that number is expected to rise again this year. Volume, though, is dwarfed by sales of Xeon and, of course, Pentium chips. The price tags on the Madison chips are far higher, however, than that of their processing cousins: The newest batch is priced from $530 to more than $4,000 per unit, provided at least 1,000 processors are purchased.

What that buys depends on the configuration. The newest Madison offerings are said to deliver performance increases of 15 percent for database transaction processing and up to 35 percent for floating point performance. They come in multiprocessor (MP), dual processor (DP), and low voltage (LV) flavors.

All are based on the EPIC (explicitly parallel instruction computing) architecture and contain 32 KB (instruction and data) of Level 1 cache and 256 KB of Level 2 cache, based on the Intel E8870 chipset. OEM custom chipsets are also available. 128-bit system buses are either 400 MHz or 533 MHz, and I/O bandwidth is 6.4 GB per second. They each make use of the Enhanced Machine Check Architecture with Extensive Error Correcting Code and can run on HP-UX, Linux, and Windows Server 2003.

MP: The new MP chip is aimed at database, business intelligence, and ERP applications. It has clock speeds between 1.3 and 1.6 GHz, up to 9 MB of Level 3 cache, and a 400 MHz front side bus (FSB).

"Itanium 2 performs well on many codes, so [it] is a good fit for customers that want high performance," said Earl Joseph, an analyst with IDC.

DP: The Itanium 2 DP chip also offers speeds up to 1.60 GHz but has only 3 MB of Level 3 cache. Its FSB can be 400 or 533 MHz. It is slightly less expensive than the MP version and is targeted at high performance computing clusters and front-end enterprise systems.

LV Processor: The Itanium 2 LV processor has a clock speed between 1 GHz and 1.3 GHz with 1.5 MB or 3 MB of Level 3 cache. At 62 watts, it is optimized for lower cost systems and dense environments, such as blade servers.


According to Intel's Smith, the next upgrade to Itanium is scheduled for some time in the second half of 2005. In addition to the much talked about 90 nanometer form factor, Montecito will have 1.7 billion transistors, a sharp increase from Madison's 600 million. It also promises a wealth of improvements, including multithreading, dual core, power optimization, processor virtualization, separate Level 2 caches for data and instructions, and technology to improve system reliability and availability.

Intel has already mapped out the road ahead for Itanium well beyond Montecito. This comes in the form of processors, codenamed Montvale and Tukwila.

Dual core means a single chip can contain two processors. It thus provides more performance per socket and contributes to lower power consumption. This goes hand in hand with multithreading.

"Multithreading enables increased performance on most applications," said Smith. "Each of the two cores per die will support two threads, for a total of four threads per die (or four virtual processors per socket)."

Another addition, known as Foxton Technology, is said to optimize performance and power consumption. It enables the processor to boost frequency when there is sufficient power utilization headroom. It also incorporates demand-based switching, which is meant to lower power and cooling costs by reducing power consumption when processor utilization goes down.

Intel's upcoming advanced virtualization technology is known as Silvervale. Montecito will include this feature, which can support multiple operating systems running on one processor.

In the meantime, Intel has already mapped out the road ahead for Itanium well beyond Montecito. This comes in the form of processors, codenamed Montvale and Tukwila. Montvale is set to become the first Itanium with 65 nanometer process technology. It will be followed by Tukwila, which extends the dual core concept into multicore technology (more than two cores per die). Smith remained vague on the exact time line for Montvale and Tukwila.

>> High RISC

High RISC Strategy

According to Smith, more than 2,100 software applications and tools are now available for Itanium. That number almost doubled this past year and has made it possible to purchase servers ranging from uniprocessor to 512-processor systems from the likes of HP, Hitachi, IBM, Samsung, SGI, Bull, Dell, Fujitsu, Fujitsu Siemens, Kraftway, Lenovo, NEC, Maxdata, Optimus, and Unisys.

HP, for example, currently offers uniprocessor to 128-processor Itanium-2-powered systems in its Integrity server line. Although the company intends to use x86 processors from Intel and AMD for less demanding server workloads, it has already earmarked Itanium 2 to replace RISC processors in its NonStop server line.

HP's director of server marketing Vish Mulchand said RISC is being phased out of NonStop. It will be supported for a number of years, but the current RISC generation is the end of the line. Starting some time in 2005, NonStop will be available on Itanium 2, and that's where all new engineering investment is going.

RISC, after all, came out in 1986. At the time, it was state-of-the-art technology; nowadays it is struggling to compete. Mulchand feels the time is right for change.

"You get much lower cost at better performance on Itanium 2 compared to RISC," said Mulchand. "With the high cost of processor manufacturing facilities, it is difficult to sustain the RISC model. That's why we are planning to gradually move to industry standard architectures, such as Itanium 2."

This article was originally published on Tuesday Nov 23rd 2004
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