Intel announces 'Poulson' Itanium series

Intel has announced the latest generation of its high-end Itanium processor line, codenamed 'Poulson,' which adds instruction-level and hyper-threading enhancements along with a process shrink to the company's assault on the RISC server market.

Intel's Itanium - or 'Itanic' in memory of the ship that couldn't sink - was to be the next big thing in the server market. The first true 64-bit chip to come out of the company, many had high hopes for Itanium - but a massive power draw combined with poor performance when running legacy 32-bit code to relegate the chip to niche markets.

When Microsoft announced that it would be withdrawing support for the platform in its Windows Server line, many expected Intel to give up on Itanic altogether - especially given the advances made in its Xeon range, which has a significantly lower power draw and performs equally well with both 32-bit and 64-bit code.

Announced today at the International Solid States Circuits Conference, the Itanium Poulson line - the tenth generation of Itanium chips - is Intel's latest attempt to prove to high-performance computing customers that the platform still has legs.

Increasing the core count from four to eight and the number of instructions per clock from six to twelve, the new Poulson line is a beast - and includes a massive 54MB of on-chip cache memory. A reduction in process size from 65nm for the last-generation Tukwila series to 32nm for Poulson helps speed things up internally, too, with Intel claiming a 33 per cent improvement in internal data transfer speeds.

That dramatic process shrink has also helped Intel to address one of the biggest complaints with the Itanium line: power draw. The company claims that the Poulson line will feature something between a 30 per cent to a 70 per cent improvement in power efficiency over Tukwila.

Enhancements to the chip's efficiency in multi-processor implementations, along with better support for the company's HyperThreading technology, should combine to make Poulson a significantly more tempting chip than some of its ill-fated predecessors.

Intel has also confirmed that it remains dedicated to the Itanium line, denying rumours that the series would be phased out in favour of the Xeon range and outlining plans to create the next-generation Kittson range to follow.

Pricing on the chips, which have yet to make it to Intel's website, was not part of the company's announcement - but, given the Itanium's target market is high-performance and high-reliability computing, expect it to be impressively high.