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HP says it needed Intel to build Itanium

Didn't have the cash to fund it
Tue Mar 20 2012, 17:08

FLOGGER OF EXPENSIVE PRINTER INK HP said it chose Intel to co-develop Itanium due to its process technology, as it didn't have the cash to fund next generation fabs.

Intel has often been the butt of Itanium jokes, but HP invested as much, if not more into the enterprise. Kirk Bresniker, CTO of HP's Business Critical Systems told The INQUIRER that HP needed Intel's manufacturing capability. Bresniker said HP's decision to partner with Intel was due to the firm realising it couldn't afford the VLSI manufacturing process iteration needed for developing competitive chips.

Bresniker said, "It is really an extension of the CISC processor that led us to partner with Intel on the Itanium. We knew we weren't going to be able to maintain the investment levels neccessary to continue to fund deep sub-micron fabs."

Until HP's foray with Itanium, the firm was known for its PA-RISC systems, some of which Bresniker designed himself back in the early 1990s. Bresniker said, "We got to the point of microprocessor development and more importantly the economics of fabrication environments and realised we were facing transition to the deep sub-micron [fabrication processes] and potentially writing billions and billions of dollars worth of cheques for fabrication, and part of the impetuous for us to partner with Intel on the Itanium design was that we wanted to have access to the world's number one microprocessor silicon fabrication."

While HP continued with PA-RISC chips well into the new millennium, HP's decision to offload the work of actually producing chips onto Intel could be seen as shrewd move, and one that firms such as AMD did a decade later. The cost of process node iteration is getting ever higher, which is something that Intel itself admits.

Not surprisingly, Bresniker wouldn't be drawn on the demise of Itanium, though HP did announce Project Odyssey late last year, which effectively mixes and matches the firm's Itanium kit with Intel Xeon servers. He did admit that the firm had to go towards x86 in the mission-critical market, Bresniker was quick to point out that while Intel is porting more features from the Itanium chip, not everything will be moved over.

Bresniker's point about HP using Intel for its manufacturing facilities is an interesting one, as Intel isn't in the 'fab for hire' business. It is likely that back in the 1990s, Intel saw it as a proving ground for its own enterprise ambitions, since after all it has cascaded a number of Itanium features into its Xeon processors, with HP providing some cover in terms of research spend and as a customer.

So even though Intel might have dumped billions into Itanium and been left with a brand that is some way short of the success it achieved with Pentium, Core and even Atom, HP's decision to use it as a fab for hire could well have worked out in Intel's favour in the long run. µ


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