10 Years After: Intel’s Itanic still striking bergs

Ten long and action packed years ago, I snapped the first pictures of the Merced microprocessor – later to be called the Itanium.

Those were the days of “chip porn”, when such wonders attracted much amazement from our lovely lovely readers.

Unfortunately, the Rogister seems to have screwed up the pictures – but never mind. Intel had announced the VLIW processor some years before Stephen Smith was ready to whip the monster out from under his kimomo. They were inordinately proud of their efforts and even bought and showed off Itanium mugs.

But did mugs ever buy Itaniums? Not that many, it seems.

I’ve got an Itanium mug and also the Itanium I. I weighed it against my old Panasonic notebook some years ago. The CPU and the notebook weighed the same – the evidence is here on The Inquirer.

Yesterday’s story that Tukwila is delayed marks a long and distinguished tradition for the Itanium processor, and the question must be asked, once again, how long this chip will last. At the launch of the Nehalem earlier this year, we dared to ask that if this chip is so wonderful, why would anybody in their right mind want to go with the Itanium. After a little shuffling round, the INTC marchitecture executives cobbled together some sort of answer that didn’t make any sense at all.

That’s not to say that those shops which are using the Itanium aren’t in their right mind. Heck, that’d be like saying that people still using IBM’s OS/2 weren’t in their right mind, or people still running CP/M on Apricots. No, they’re all in their right minds – they’re just living in a parallel universe where these products somehow still matter.

Fortunately, we can describe Intel as the Great Amnesiac. It quickly forgets products or technologies that never make the grade and presses onward swiftly. I’d forgotten until I read my 1999 Intel roadmap story that I’d invented Groves’ Law – the amazing ability to create roadmaps for its customers describing a terrain of the future and swiftly change direction in as many of the 360 degrees in a circle it needs.

Intel’s rationale for the delay in Tukwila is that it’s going to add something to the mix with the next version of the Itanium and give it a better chance to compete with “proprietary” RISC chips like Sparc and IBM Power.

Yeah, right. We can only imagine what will happen to Sparc once Oracle’s Larry Ellison gets his mitts on Sun Microsystems, while the IBM Power family still holds enormous market share and no doubt is still powering Las Vegas casinos like Ballys. Ballys is the hotel the IBM suits used to stay at during Comdex. They once held a toga party – how cool is that?

Luckily no monster popped out of their togas then because IBM was still self-obsessed with OS/2. But IBM’s position seems almost unassailable, 10 years after.

Unluckily for us poor jobbing hacks, Intel won’t tell us how many Itanics it ships because, well, it just won’t. Can there really be very much of a future for the unlucky processor?

Nehalem is now Intel’s blue eyed boy. And We’re amazed the Itanium is still staggering on. I’m amazed I’m still staggering on.  So I’ll stop now, and have a little rest.