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Intel to Merge Xeon and Itanium in 2015-2017

Intel Itanium (Tukwilla)

The future of much criticized Intel Itanium processor is often blurry. In fact, it was even a matter of recent court spat between ORACLE and HP, where ORACLE wanted to abandon Itanium altogether. Thus, Intel is making a strategic move to ensure the future of this niche product line.

Without much fanfare, Intel finally introduced the Itanium 9500 series, formerly known as Poulson. This long-delayed part is manufactured using the trusted-n-tried 32nm process, replacing the 65nm Tukwilla (Itanium 9300 Series). However, there are many clouds on the horizon for the Itanium lineup, mostly with Itanium customers demanding more strict ECC code for the GPU and Accelerators (how Intel likes to call Xeon Phi), in order to replace them going forward. Even with the court forcing ORACLE to continue supporting Itanium, there's no secret that long delays of Poulson / Itanium 9500 and general lack of focus on the architecture Intel and HP once called "the future of high-end computing" are taking their toll.

Thus, for the next generation of Itanium processors, Intel is going to do something the company typically avoids to do: socket compatibility. Poulson or Itanium 9500 will be the top of what Intel has on offer for the next two to three years, during which time its successor, 22nm Kittson will be reengineered to align itself with the Xeon E7 series processors. According to slides leaked on X-bit Labs, the Haswell-EX (Xeon E7) will share silicon design (Memory, I/O, RAS) and package / socket, while the cores will be either Itanium (IA64) or standard Xeon (x86-64 / EM64T).

This move is scheduled to take place during 2015-2017 timeframe, which follows the executing logic of the company:

  • Ivy Bridge (Core i3/i5/i7) debuted in 2012
  • Haswell (Core i3/i5/i7) will debut in early 2013
  • Ivy Bridge-EP (Xeon E3/E5) should arrive in mid-2013
  • Ivy Bridge-E (Core i7) debuts in late 2013
  • Ivy Bridge-EX for critical servers (Xeon E7) debuts in late 2013
  • Broadwell (Core i3/i5/i7) should ship in early 2014
  • Haswell-EP (Xeon E3, E5) should ship by mid 2014
  • Haswell-E (Core i7) debuts in late 2014
  • Haswell-EX (Xeon E7) is planned for late 2014
  • Broadwell-EP (Xeon E3 / E5) is planned for mid 2015
  • Broadwell-E (Core i7) arrives in late 2015
  • Broadwell-EX (Xeon E7) is planned for late 2016

At the same time, Kittson is targeting the introduction in the fourth quarter 2015, when the socket meld should be happening. The company is hoping that by lowering the cost of the infrastructure, it can get more businesses to use Itanium. At least, that is the company line. More realistically, as our sources close to hear of the company are saying is that Intel wants to lower the cost of Itanium platform development, since it represents too high of a strain when profitability is compared.

The new socket could be the one you already know – according to some sources, Intel plans to re-wire the LGA-2011 for Haswell/Broadwell, making it incompatible with Sandy Bridge/Ivy Bridge-based products. The rewiring isn't being done to support new architectures, but rather provide more power – according to documents we saw, Intel plans to introduce 150W and up to 180W parts when Haswell and Broadcom architectures enter the cut throat server business.

That's it for this edition of crystal ball, stay tuned.

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