As expected, Intel took the wraps off two new Itanium 2 processors this week with 667MHz front-side buses (FSBs) to provide faster access to data. Intel expects the new products to tide it over until the launch of its first dual-core Itanium processor later this year.

The two 1.66GHz Itanium 2 processors consist of a processor with 9MB of Level 3 cache and the other with 6MB of Level 3 cache. The 667MHz FSB provides a faster link to main memory and logic chipsets, improving the performance of high-end servers.

It also allows Intel's server partners to build the 667MHz front-side bus into chipsets that will support Montecito, the first dual-core Itanium processor expected later this year. Analysts saw the faster bus as crucial for Montecito, which contains two separate processing cores and will require a quick connection to memory to keep those cores running efficiently. Montecito will incorporate two 12MB L3 caches and is slated to support both 533MHz and 667MHz FSBs.

Hitachi is expected to use the chips in its BladeSymphony servers within 30 days, according to Intel. UK spokesman Nick Knupffer said that Hitachi was the only company to declare a product so far because it was the sole third party with an available chipset. He said he was not aware of any others. Intel's own supporting chipset will be available later this year, he said. "It will be up to server manufacturers whether or not they use Hitachi's chipset or ours", he said.

AMD has also introduced an integrated memory controller for its Opteron server chips that directly connects the processor to memory. This has proven to be a very efficient way to get data back and forth to memory, and Intel is expected to use a similar design in coming years.

On chips without an integrated memory controller, like Intel's, the front-side bus is a crucial pathway between the processor and the rest of the system. A faster link means more data can be processed and sent to memory, improving overall system performance for memory-intensive applications.

Intel's 9MB chip costs US$4,655 and the 6MB part is $2,194, 1,000-off.