Dell drops Itanium (again)

CNET has a story up today on how Dell has dropped Itanium from its server lineup and chosen to focus on cheaper, x86-powered servers, instead. This is actually the second time Dell has dropped Itanium from its product lineup. The company's initial workstation offering in 2001 was dumped after Dell determined customer interest was "effectively zero."

Disliking Itanium and declaring it dead are both fashionable hobbies among computer enthusiasts, but I can't help wondering how many of the naysayers are truly speaking from informed opinions based on current Itanium performance. Intel definitely bears a large chunk of responsibility for Itanium's negative reception—not only was the original Merced years behind schedule and vastly over budget, but Intel had marketed the CPU (and IA-64) as the computing standards of the future. Itanium's performance at introduction was underwhelming to say the least; the chip ran hot, sucked power, was enormously expensive, and performed like a dog in x86-emulation mode—which was, understandably, what the enthusiasts focused their attention. Itanium quickly became known as Itanic, and IA-64 hasn't gained much prestige (or respect) since.

With new, dual-core chips on the horizon, a common Xeon-Itanium platform coming soon, and the x86 industry's focus on parallelism as a means of boosting performance, I'm not sure I'd count Itanium (or an IA-64 based-design) all the way out. Itanium's current entrenchment in the niche "big iron" market might simply reflect the market Intel should've targeted the CPU at in the first place. Certainly x86-64 is here to stay, but might Intel's Itanium position reflect a long-term game with a payoff five to ten years in the future?

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