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SGI has confirmed that the next-generation Intel Xeon EX and Intel Itanium processors will use similar platform architecture, which may mean that such central processing units will be physically interchangeable. In addition, chief executive of SGI said that the first next-gen Altix systems will be powered by Intel Xeon processors and will gain support for Itanium only later.

“Currently, we have an internal project, code-named ‘Ultraviolet’. It represents the next generation of Altix, designed to utilize both Itanium and Xeon processors. Our first priority is to develop a Xeon version of Ultraviolet, based on the strong feedback we have received from many customers. We continue to develop and expand our Altix Itanium line of products, and Ultraviolet V1 is focused on Xeon,” said Mark Barrenechea, president and chief executive officer of SGI.

Intel’s future Xeon EX processor code-named Beckton powered by Nehalem micro-architecture features Quick Path Interconnect bus, integrated DDR3 memory controller as well new reliability, availability and serviceability (RAS) features traditionally found in Intel Itanium processor family, such as machine check architecture (MCA) recovery. Together with new levels of performance, both high-end processors should speed the move away from more expensive, proprietary RISC-processor based systems, Intel hopes.

In case Intel and SGI manage to create a common platform that supports both Itanium and Xeon processors, the former will be considerably more affordable and, given that Xeon chips are generally more affordable, attractiveness of Itanium-based servers will get considerably lower.

SGI has always been one of the most loyal customers for Intel Itanium microprocessors. However, it looks like while the company plans to continue making IA64 machines, it will add more focus on Xeon chips. This is logical as Intel’s Xeon EX processors feature eight processing engines, whereas the next-gen Itanium only has four cores and Xeon may appear to be faster.

“As we progress down our shared memory roadmap, we will continue to evaluate our processor choices with our customers, keeping our eyes open in terms of the many standard processor options available in the market. As Intel continues to deliver its QuickPath Interconnect (QPI) technologies, we believe we can continue to develop a common architecture to address both Xeon and Itanium processors,” added the executive.

Still, despite of dramatic improvements of Xeon in the recent years, SGI believes that there is still a future for Itanium lineup and the server maker will continue to build systems powered by Itanium.

“The Itanium roadmap appears interesting and compelling for many years to come. And many SGI customers have Itanium systems. SGI will continue to work with our current and new customers to determine the best choice for their microprocessor needs, as we continue to leverage the best world-class micro-processing architecture available. Read my FLOPS. SGI is 100% committed to Itanium,” said Mr. Barrenechea.

Tags: SGI, Intel, Nehalem, Beckton, 45nm, Itanium, IA64

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