Intel has stopped shipping the Itanium processor.
In January 2019, Chipzilla issued an advisory [PDF] warning that last orders for the CPU must be lodged by January 30, 2020, and that final shipments would head out the door on July 29, 2021.
Which was yesterday.
So concludes an odd story that started in the age of the minicomputer, when the likes of pre-split HP, Data General, Wang, and Prime dominated the server market with machines based on their own proprietary products.
By the mid-1990s, HP was worried that the minicomputer market was running out of steam because customers feared proprietary architectures would limit their software choices and lock them in to expensive ecosystems. But Sun was still in business, IBM never gave up on proprietary architectures, and DEC was telling anyone who would listen that its leap into the then-exotic realm of 64-bit CPUs with its Alpha platform represented a huge step forward.
HP therefore did a deal with Intel to use some of its research on a new architecture called Explicitly Parallel Instruction Computing, and its IA-64 instruction set, and turn it into a product. HP reckoned this tech would out-perform its few remaining minicomputer-derived rivals and Intel’s own server-directed efforts. Intel liked the idea of having another product line, so agreed to the arrangement. Major OS vendors were signed up to port their wares to Itanium, to make it a viable platform for all concerned.
Intel and HP made wrong calls. X86 performance improved, and went 64-bit and multi-core, competing against its Itanium cousin; customers really were almost totally over minicomputer-like systems; and Itanium’s IA-64 architecture turned out to be hard to code for and its speed didn't impress. Intel bailed on it in 2004.
Itanium quickly earned the nickname "Itanic" – a pun suggesting it was a supposedly brilliant innovation that sank on its maiden voyage.
- Intel IA-64 architecture to last 25 years
- ARM specs out first 64-bit RISC chips
- HP revs up Integrity, Superdomes for Itanium 9500s
Itanium did score plenty of decent wins, but never set the world on fire. IBM and Sun/Oracle ended up with the only sustainable proprietary stacks.
The few customers Itanium did attract were often the sort of outfits that don't and can't casually migrate to new platforms – The Register knows of a stock exchange that bet on it and has run the platform for almost two decades. The fact that Itanium had been directed at those with unusually demanding applications also meant that plenty of users had tightly coupled software and hardware.
Even though Itanium development slowed, and new releases offered modest performance improvements, the platform lived on. Intel's Xeon, meanwhile, improved in leaps and bounds and outpaced Itanium on core count and clock speed. The server virtualization boom made Xeon-based systems more flexible, and Itanium became a curiosity.
The product spluttered along through new releases in 2012 and 2017, but its death notice came in 2019 – and in February 2021 it was ejected from the Linux kernel.
And, as noted above, shipments of the silicon ceased yesterday.
Which brings us to our headline: The Register just found 300-plus Itanium CPUs on eBay. It's true! Some of the ads – like this one depicting a brass rhinoceros may not be entirely convincing. However, plenty of others depict working servers, CPUs, or other components an Itanium user may find handy.
So while Intel won't ship you a new Itanium anymore, plenty of others are happy to offload their old kit to help the few remaining users keep rumbling along.
Warning: check before buying this stuff. HPE has pledged to support Itanium until 2025, though may not be so keen on you using second-hand kit. ®