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In 1830, the first semiconductor materials were tested in labs. Materials that were known to be poor conductors of heat were used in experiments by those early scientists, in a science that has been at the heart of the tech sector. They set the ball rolling for an industry that registered a massive $139 billion in total revenue for 2001. In ’65, Gordon Moore defined Moore’s Law as the number of transistors per square inch on integrated circuits would double every year. In subsequent years, the pace has slowed down a bit, but data density has doubled approximately every 18 months — and this is the current definition of Moore’s Law. For the last thirty years, Intel’s CPUs have been “obeying” Moore’s Law religiously. The race for a faster chip has been Intel’s game: From the 4004 in ’71, its first microprocessor — to the revolutionary 286 in ’82, the very first processor that could run all the software written for its predecessor — Intel has been the undisputed chip technology heavyweight. Tomorrow, Intel will roll out the improved Itanium 2 microprocessor — which is an evolved version of the original Itanium, launched in 2001. With big tech buyers always wary of products that have not proved themselves in the market, it is essential for the new Itanium to fire on all cylinders — if it wants to compete effectively against makers of RISC chips like Sun Microsystems, which dominates the midrange server market. HP will announce four Itanium 2-based server and workstation systems tomorrow, as part of the Itanium 2 launch, using its previously disclosed zx1 chip set that supports one to four processors. The company is now working on a chip set, code-named Pinnacles, that will support servers with eight to 32 processors. The Pinnacles chip set will enter the market in the middle of 2003 in an upgraded version of HP’s high-end Superdome server, running the next- generation Itanium processor, called Madison, which will sport 6 Mbytes of on-die Level 3 cache. The zx1 is geared to work with three generations of Itanium processors — McKinley, Madison and the Montecito, which is expected in 2004. All of these processors will use the same processor bus. HP will sell a 900-MHz Itanium 2 uniprocessor workstation for about $4,500, a dual-processor workstation and rack-mounted server starting at about $7,000 and a four-way rack-mounted server starting at about $30,000. Itanium is very different from Intel’s original hardware model where the CPUs literally “attacked” the software — one instruction at a time. It represents a whole new way of thinking when it comes to executing software. Itanium is Intel’s first true 64-bit chip, and uses their EPIC (Explicitly Parallel Instruction Computing) instruction set (IA-64 computing). IA-64’s speed comes from programming concepts that were totally unheard of in Intel-based PC hardware design when Merced (code name for the first version of the chip) was announced back in 1994. No longer is the responsibility of speeding things up delegated to silicon logic alone. IA-64 now allows, or rather requires, software to convey hardware usage logic directly to the CPU. IA-64 accomplishes this by redefining the instruction format into an EPIC design — whereby the very nature of instruction encodings tell the CPU which parts of the chip will be used to process data. In addition to supporting a 64-bit processor bus and a set of 28 registers, the 64-bit design allows access to a very large memory (VLM). An additional Itanium feature includes a Level 3 (L3) cache memory, to supplement the current L1 and L2 cache memories found in most of today’s microcomputers. Most applications in use today are based on a 32-bit microprocessor architecture, and are designed for up to 4 gigabytes of memory. However, with application access to ever-larger databases becoming more important, leading software/hardware suppliers in the computer industry have already begun to develop systems/applications for the Itanium and its ability to handle 64-bit address space. Well, Intel’s moment of truth has arrived. Estimates that a four-processor Itanium 2-based system will support about 50 percent more transactions per minute than a comparable UltraSparc III system from Sun Microsystems Inc., will now face the ultimate test — the market. Intel claims the Itanium 2 is 50 to 100 percent faster than the first Itanium. Hmm, that should work.
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