Intel moves to boost Itanium's 32-bit power

Intel moves to boost Itanium's 32-bit power

Intel has announced the next version of its 64-bit Itanium 2 chip will come with new software designed to improve the performance of 32-bit applications running on Itanium 2 systems.

The new chip, code-named Madison, was scheduled to ship in the second half of the year, Intel spokesman, Scott McLaughlin, said.

The IA-32 software execution layer would give 32-bit applications running on Itanium 2-based servers performance on par with that of systems built around the 1.5-GHz version of Intel's Xeon MP processor, he said.

Pieces of the software would be installed on the chip itself and as part of operating systems.

The disclosure of Intel's software plans coincided with chip rival Advanced Micro Devices announcement of its 64-bit Opteron server processor, which also was designed to run 32-bit applications at speeds comparable to their performance on existing systems.

McLaughlin said the IA-32 technology was part of a "natural evolution of 32-bit support on Itanium".

The software execution layer had been under development for several years and was currently undergoing validation testing, he said.

But McLaughlin acknowledged that Intel had heard complaints about 32-bit application performance on Itanium-based systems.

Although Intel officials acknowledged that the Itanium processors already included built-in support for running 32-bit applications, real-world performance levels had been less than awe-inspiring, an analyst at D.H. Brown Associates, Rich Partridge, said.

By announcing the software plans, Intel was moving "to address what is perceived to be a problem," Partridge said. "The perception is that the current hardware (support) for 32-bit applications on Itanium 2 doesn't give full performance."

That hae opened up a potential marketing opportunity for AMD. IBM this week said it planned to ship Opteron-based systems later this year, and AMD's new chip also drew promises of operating system support from Microsoft, Red Hat and SuSE Linux.

Analyst Charles King said he thought Intel would be seen as trying to play catch-up with AMD on 32-bit application support in the wake of the Opteron launch.

"That probably woke them up a little bit," King said.

Most users had been telling Intel officials that they planned to move to 64-bit applications when they installed Itanium-based systems, McLaughlin said. But a major reason for incorporating the new software layer was to let companies continue to use 32-bit applications that hadn't been ported to 64-bit systems.

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