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Linux Journal: Intel's Itanium on Launch Pad

May 24, 2000, 01:29 (3 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Linley Gwennap)

"After more than six years of effort, Intel is finally ready to deploy its first processor based on the IA-64 instruction set, which it co-developed with Hewlett-Packard. The chip, named Itanium, is designed to go where no Pentium has gone before: the high end of the server market. When it arrives, Itanium will open doors not just for Intel but also for Linux. Today, a few large companies ship the vast majority of big servers. Sun, HP, IBM and Compaq servers rely mainly on proprietary RISC processors and proprietary versions of UNIX. But with the turbo-charged Itanium, many other vendors will deliver servers that match the power of these proprietary machines. These vendors are likely to rely on Linux or one of two key competitors: Monterey UNIX or Windows 2000."

"Instead of simply extending the aging x86 instruction set to 64 bits, Intel decided to leap to a new instruction set, IA-64. This state-of-the-art design includes a host of performance-enhancing features--such as predication, speculation and register frames--that are not found in x86 or RISC processors."

"The general intent of these features is to give the compiler more control over the hardware. In theory, the compiler can make better decisions about how to group and order instructions for optimal performance. Furthermore, the processor hardware is simplified by relying on the compiler to make these decisions. Simpler processors can be both faster and less expensive to manufacture. Many previous instruction sets have failed to gain significant market share. The problem has been incompatibility with existing software. Itanium solves this problem by including an x86 translation unit on the chip. This unit can process any existing x86 application, albeit at a lower speed than an application that has been recompiled for IA-64."

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