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Intel said on Tuesday it had begun shipping the first chips with more than 1bn transistors as it attacked the $28bn market for the world’s most powerful computers.
Intel said its Dual-Core Itanium 2 processor represented the world’s most intricate product design to date, with more than 1.7bn transistors on board. It will sell for as much as $3,700, with customers expected to combine the chips to increase their power.
France’s Bull has already tried out the chips using 4,352 together to build Europe’s biggest supercomputer for the French Atomic Energy Commission.
Intel said the new chip, formerly codenamed Montecito, represented a doubling of performance compared to the previous generation, with a 20 per cent reduction in power needs.
But for all its impressive benchmarks, Itanium has not lived up to the original expectations set when Intel combined with Hewlett-Packard 12 years ago to work on a revolutionary processor.
Itanium, which increases computing power by carrying out separate instructions in parallel, was intended to penetrate all areas of computing down to the consumer desktop PC.
But delays and design problems have confined it to the small segment of the highest-performing computers, where its main rivals are IBM’s Power and Sun’s Sparc processors.
Pat Gelsinger, head of Intel’s Digital Enterprise division, said on Tuesday that Itanium could now outperform both and it was already outselling them in markets such as Japan and Russia.
The backdrop for his presentation was a stage with several tons of Itanium servers lined up from Bull, Fujitsu, HP, Hitachi, NEC, Silicon Graphics and Unisys. They are part of an Itanium Solutions Alliance that has promised $10bn over five years to expand support and market awareness of the chip.
Mr Gelsinger said there were now 8,200 software applications from 1,000 companies designed for the architecture.
“The product line is credible, we are delivering and gaining momentum,” he said.