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Intel Corporation this week confirmed its plans to bring compatible platforms for its Xeon and Itanium microprocessors for servers and workstations. There are no timeframes, but now there is a strong a clear plan to release something that is likely to bridge two different visions of computing – IA64 and IA32.

“In the next few years, the company will work on a “common platform so that Itanium and Xeon processors are interchangeable at a socket level,” said David Kuck, a manager with Intel’s Software & Solutions Group, speaking at the ClusterWorld conference, InfoWorld web-site reports.

Nowadays servers and workstations platforms based on Intel Itanium 2 and Intel Xeon-series processors use different sockets, mainboards and chipsets. While some components may be used on both platforms, e.g. Gigabit Ethernet controllers, in generally platforms are not compatible or interchangeable.

Intel Xeon MP processors are plugged into mPGA603 ZIF sockets, Intel Itanium 2 are plugged into mPGA700 ZIF sockets.

International Business Machines already ships platforms based Summit chipsets that are compatible with both Itanium and Xeon processors: depending on platform and other conditions the company selects core-logic components and deploys them as a solution. Such approach greatly saves time as well as R&D expenses and Intel confirmed earlier this year it would roll-out a similar core-logic for IA32 and IA64 processors at some point. What was not said by Intel in early 2004 is that the company plans a platform that is compatible with Intel’s Itanium and Xeon chips on the level of sockets.

Unification of components for IA32 and IA64 solutions is likely to bring the costs of Itanium 2-based applications seriously down, as the Xeon are Intel’s volume server products which cost should be relatively low by description. Furthermore, gaining so high compatibility between two totally different lines of microprocessors will allow Intel’s end-clients to switch between Itanium and Xeon chips. Nevertheless, Intel will still have to explain potential customers the need to spend rather lot additional funds on IA64 software, as Intel’s Itanium processors only unleash their potential in environments specifically tailored for them and cannot offer a lot of power in conventional 32-bit apps. There is one more trick here: both Xeon MP and Xeon DP will have 64-bit capability in less than a year time. Santa Clara, California-based chipmaker in this case will have to insist on the micro-architecture and raw performance of the Itanium rather than on its 64-bit mode.

According to currently available information, first compatible Xeon/Itanium platforms will emerge in 2006-2007.


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