Intel is shipping an updated version of its dual-core Itanium 2 server processor. However, despite several new features, the company said that users would not see a dramatic improvement in performance.

The company said that the new processor, Montvale (officially known as the Itanium 2 9100 series chips) offered some incremental improvements, including a faster front-side bus on some models and features that lower power consumption in certain situations and improve reliability, but little that was radically new. "Essentially, this is a follow-on product to the current one," said Eddie Toh, regional platforms marketing manager in Intel Asia-Pacific's Server Platforms Group.

Some 9100 models run at slightly higher clock speeds than their predecessors but offer the same amount of on-chip cache. For example, the high-end 9150M runs at 1.66GHz, uses a 667MHz front-side bus, and has 24MB of cache, while the older 9050 runs at 1.6GHz, uses a 533MHz front-side bus, and contains 24MB of cache. Both chips will be available for US$3,692 in 1,000-unit quantities, a standard pricing method for processors, Intel said.

The faster front-side bus and higher clock speeds in the 9100 series still offer respectable performance gains of around 19 percent over the 9000 series, Toh said, citing the results of testing done by Intel. The 9100 models that offer the higher models include an 'M' alongside their model numbers to differentiate them from those using the slower 533MHz clock speed, which carry an 'N.'

The main differences between the 9000 and 9100 series lie in a couple of new features incorporated in the 9100 series. The Core Level Lock Step feature included in the new chips is intended to improve reliability by detecting and eliminating errors in the processor cores, keeping calculation results consistent between different cores - a reliability feature that already exists for maintaining consistency between processors.

Some 9100 models also use a Demand-Based Switching feature that helps lower power consumption when utilisation levels are low.

Beyond Montvale, Intel is working on three future versions of Itanium. Tukwila, which will be manufactured using a 65-nm process and pack four processor cores on a single silicon die, will be released next year, Toh said. Tukwila will be followed by Poulson, a 32-nm chip that uses a new processor micro-architecture, and then a chip called Kittson.