Intel plans to offer software technology called IA-32 Execution Layer with future versions of its 64-bit Itanium 2 processor that will allow systems with the chip to run 32-bit applications much faster than currently possible, the company announced.
The Itanium 2 chip comes with hardware support that allows it to run 32-bit applications, but at speeds far below what current 32-bit processors such as Intel's Xeon chips can achieve. With IA-32 Execution Layer, Intel will speed up the ability of Itanium to process 32-bit applications as fast as a 1.5GHz Xeon MP processor, said Barbara Grimes, an Intel spokeswoman.
Businesses have been slow to adopt systems from Hewlett-Packard, Unisys and others featuring the Itanium processor for a number of reasons, primarily because of the porting effort required to take advantage of the chip. In order to efficiently run their applications on servers with Itanium 2, IT managers need to recompile all of their applications so they can be understood by the chip's EPIC (explicitly parallel instruction computing) instruction set, whether or not those applications need 64-bit performance.
The inability of Itanium 2 to efficiently handle 32-bit applications has been a big selling point for Advanced Micro Devices' (AMD's) Opteron processor, launched on Tuesday. Opteron can run 32-bit applications faster than current 32-bit processors, and allows users to recode applications for 64-bits as they require the additional performance. The chip adds 64-bit extensions to the x86 instruction set used in 32-bit desktop and server processors from Intel and AMD.
If Intel can offer adequate 32-bit performance for existing applications, it could go a long way toward making IT managers more comfortable using that 32-bit mode, said Peter Glaskowsky, editor-in-chief of the Microprocessor Report. Itanium's 64-bit performance is quite good, but only when software has been recompiled for that architecture, he said.
Anyone who purchases an Itanium system will still want to make sure that almost all of their applications are running in IA-64 mode, he said. "You would never buy Itanium unless you had pretty much all your important code running at 64-bits. If you're using the 32-bit mode even 10 per cent of the time, you're not working cost effectively," he said.
IA-32 Execution Layer does not represent a change in strategy, Grimes said. "Itanium is designed to be a 64-bit processor line first and foremost, the 32-bit support is provided more for customers who are migrating" (from older applications to 64-bit ones), she said.
Intel has been working on this technology for more than a year, she said. It will make its first appearance with the release of Madison later this year. Madison is the next version of the Itanium processor line, and will come out around the middle of the year at 1.5GHz and up to 6MB of Level 3 cache.
IA-32 Execution Layer is built into Windows Server 2003, Grimes said. Microsoft and Intel are still testing and validating the technology, and it will be available in the second half of the year, she said.