New Itanium a breakthrough for Intel?

Madison, the third member of the Itanium chip family, is Intel's best shot to date at taking on Sun Microsystems and IBM in the market for high-end server chips. If the Santa Clara, Calif.-based chipmaker succeeds with its ambitious plans, the higher end of the $43 billion server market will be remade around Itanium the way the lower end now centers on Intel's Xeon chips. The chip will be sold under the Itanium 2 name and come out Monday along with new versions of the Xeon processor for midrange servers. Madison offers roughly 50 percent better performance over its most recent predecessor, according to Intel, and is already rated highly against the best chips in the world in audited benchmark tests.

But just as importantly, Intel and its allies have finally begun attracting broad support from server makers and the software companies with programs that make the machines useful. By the end of the year, there will be more than 50 different Itanium 2 systems on the market. Similarly, the software customer base is expanding. More than 400 programs, including Windows, SAS' business analysis software, SAP's accounting software, and Oracle's 9i database software, have been or are in the process of being ported to Itanium 2. Customers using Itanium 2 in pilots or for actual work include Sun America, Agilent Technologies, British Petroleum and BMW.

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