Itanium 9500: Intel’s Ace in the Hole?

Intel’s x64 bit Itanium architecture went through a rough patch in its early days: the chipset failed to live up to expectations when it rolled out (behind schedule) in 2001, and fell in line with the RISC and CISC CPUs Intel said it would outmatch.

The brand has come a long way since then.  Last week’s launch of the Itanium 9500 is a big contrast to the disappointment that followed the product’s debut over a decade ago, for not one, but two major reasons.

First, there’s the technical side.  Intel is touting the 9500 series chips as its “most sophisticated general processors to date,” and the specs are living up to the hype.  A 9500 packs eight cores, twice as much as the previous generation, and delivers up to 40 percent more juice in power-save settings.  Speeds range from 1.73 GHz at 130 watts to 2.53 GHz at a power level of 170 watts.

The new Itanium also features 54 MB of on-die memory and up to four low voltage DIMM memory modules that add up to a total of 2TB.

“A mission-critical IT infrastructure with resiliency, scalability and high availability is critical to the success of enterprises,” Ric Lewis, the VP of HP’s Business Critical Systems said.  “The addition of the Intel Itanium processor 9500 series to our newly enhanced HP Integrity and HP-UX portfolio provides breakthrough performance, increased productivity and delivers on HP’s commitment to provide our customers with investment protection.”

Hewlett-Packard has reason to gloat, which brings us to the second reason the 9500 is a special launch. HP recently came out victorious in a lawsuit against Oracle, whose claim of foul play was based almost entirely on evidence that Intel plans to pull the plug on the Itanium line in the near future. The case called attention to similar rumors that have been circulating in the industry for a while now, but yesterday’s launch leaves no room for speculation.