Intel to finally scatter remaining ashes of Itanium to the wind in 2021: Final call for doomed server CPU line

Chipzilla sets final date for the sinking of the Itanic


Intel has announced the official, pinky-swear, cross-my-heart-and-hope-to-die end to its Itanium line, notifying system makers that production of the server processors will end by mid-2021.

In a notice [PDF] sent out to vendors earlier this week, Intel said that the Itanium 9700 series would take its final order on January 30 of 2020 with the final shipment date to take place on July 29, 2021.

"Market demand for the products... have shifted to other Intel products," Chipzilla said, putting in an early contender for understatement of the year. "The products identified in this notification will be discontinued and unavailable for additional orders after the Last Product Discontinuance Order Date."

The notice will apply to the Itanium 9720, 9740, 9750, 9760 models as well as the Intel C112 and C114 Scalable Memory Buffer. We understand those are the last of the Itanium chips available, launched in 2017 as four and eight-core parts, meaning by Fall 2021, it's all over for the doomed family.

For many Reg readers, news of the end of Itanium production will come as less of a shock than the revelation that Itanic chips were even still in production. Intel all but admitted defeat on the platform years ago, shifting its server focus back to x86 Xeon chips and pulling virtually all promotional efforts. Meanwhile, long-time champion HPE said it will support the processors until the end of 2025.

Announced in 1999 and debuting in 2001, Itanium traced its roots back to the early 1990s, when HP and Intel decided to embark on a project together to come up with a CPU instruction set for the high-end server market, and settled on a shiny new 64-bit VLIW (Very Long Instruction Word) architecture, dubbed IA-64. Former Intel CEO Craig Barrett was a driving force behind the technology.

Despite having the marketing might of Chipzilla at its disposal, and a crowd of server vendors eagerly working to pump the platform, Itanium failed to ever really catch on in the market. For one thing, it wasn't x86 compatible. Also, the architecture was a little too, how can we put this... esoteric. It was tricky to optimize code for the processor, as you needed to carefully schedule multiple instructions to run at once to take full advantage of the thing, and software would tend to be tied to a particular CPU, unless you were happy maintaining various ports.

Who sank Itanic?

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With enterprises balking at the idea of at worst rewriting, or at best recompiling and re-optimizing, their code for the new instruction set, by the 2010s Intel more or less had the platform on life support.

To make matters worse AMD had around that time introduced Opteron chips, which were capable of handling both 32 and 64-bit x86 code. When server manufacturers started buying the AMD parts instead of Itanium, Chipzilla reacted badly, threatening manufacturers with a load of rebates, and threatening to cut off supplies, unless they exclusively bought Intel kit. That abuse ended up costing the chip giant $1.25bn in compensation payments to AMD.

In the meantime, however, Itanium did manage to get itself a footnote in Silicon Valley history by starring in a bitter legal spat between between Oracle and HP over House Larry's lack of database, middleware, and other application support for HP Itanium servers. ®

Hat tip to Anton Shilov for clocking the Itanium update first.

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