Intel has released preliminary performance figures for its upcoming family of 64-bit Itanium 2 processors, code-named McKinley, and the company says that the products should experience one and a half to two times the performance of existing Itanium products. Intel's Itanium line processes data in 64-bit chunks instead of the 32 bits that today's Pentium-based processors use. But many people regard the original Itanium, which debuted with 700MHz and 800MHz models, as a performance laggard compared with the Pentium and the 64-bit competition from Sun Microsystems and other companies. Intel says the new generation of microprocessors will address this concern.

Interestingly, Intel's solution doesn't rely on core processing speeds. The Itanium 2 will debut at just 1GHz, less than half the nominal speed of a high-end Pentium 4 processor, but it will offer 3MB of Level 3 (L3) cache and other on-chip performance tweaks. These tweaks provide as much as two times the performance of the original Itanium and, says Intel, a 50 percent performance advantage over Sun's fastest processor.

But Intel doesn't address the question of how well the chip stacks up against the Pentium 4 processor in its Itanium 2 performance figures. "Megahertz-myth" talk notwithstanding, Intel's most recent Pentium 4 processor, which runs at speeds faster than 2.5GHz, recently set a performance record in the industry-standard Linpack Benchmark. This feat represents the first time a mainstream, off-the-shelf processor has topped this benchmark, which historically has been the domain of costly specialty processors from Cray, Hitachi, NEC, and other companies..