In a major embarrassment to the world's biggest chipmaker, Intel plans to delay the release of new versions of its ballyhooed Itanium processor until next year.
An Intel spokesman said Montecito, its first dual-core Itanium will ship in volume by the middle of 2006, instead of in the first quarter, as earlier announcements indicated. The release of several successive versions of Itanium also have been pushed back.
"We have seed units out [of Montecito], and the performance looks pretty good, but we decided we needed time to do more testing to hit significantly high quality for this mission critical product," William Giles, a spokesman for Intel, told internetnews.com.
At the same time, Intel said it plans to beef up its Xeon line in 2007 with a new processor code-named "Tigerton." Tigerton will be part of a new Xeon MP platform called "Caneland" that Giles said improves on the Reidland platform and Whitefield processor they replace. One specific advantage that Caneland processors will have is a dedicated high-speed connection between the chipset and memory, improving on earlier and current designs that use a separate front-side bus. AMD regularly mocks Intel for continuing to use the frontside bus, which dates back some 20 years.
Also, Intel's plans to add a direct high-speed connection in Montecito have been put on hold and will not be implemented until later versions of the Itanium processor.
"We're still comfortable with the performance and expect Montecito to offer a 2X performance improvement over earlier versions of Itanium," said Giles.
However, some analysts are concerned the delay gives competitors that much more time to advance their chips' performance.
"Unless they can improve the performance of those chips, then they [Intel] suffer a double whammy -- they're late and the competition has moved on to higher performance," Nathan Brookwood, an analyst with Insight64, told internetnews.com. "Late chips don't get faster, they get later."
Competitors such as Sun Microsystems have specific campaigns targeting Itanium customers, included a Web site headlined "Get off the Itanic" that compares the Itanium to the doomed Titanic ocean liner.
Speculating on reasons for the delay, Brookwood said even a company the size of Intel can have problems dealing with a processor as complicated as Itanium. "Intel has to deal with so many different system environments and so many core logic system implementations for Itanium that it should be no surprise they run into unexpected problems," Brockwood said. "This is a lot more challenging problem than, say, IBM with its Power processor. IBM has far less variations to worry about."
Another less obvious reason for the delay could be AMD, even though it doesn't compete directly with Itanium in most markets. Intel plans to beef up its Xeon line to better compete with AMD's hot-selling dual-core Opteron. Brookwood believes resources for Xeon are being made a higher priority because that's Intel's best response to AMD. With Itanium, Intel is primarily going after RISC-based workstation and high-end server markets, as well as supercomputers.
Intel's Giles said there hasn't been any shifting of resources away from Itanium that he's aware of. He said, "This isn't a 'turn up the volume on Xeon and away from Itanium' deal."
This article was originally published on internetnews.com.