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VNU Net: Intel opens up Itanium spec

May 10, 2000, 19:58 (2 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by John Leyden)

By: John Leyden, VNU Net

Intel put technical specifications of its next generation 64-bit Itanium processor on the internet today in a break from its traditional secrecy that will allow open source developers to write compilers.

Intel had previously limited access to its Itanium Processor Micro-architecture Reference guide to around 100 of its most significant development partners, who obtain the information under strict non-disclosure agreements.

But with the planned launch of Itanium, the first chip with Intel's 64-bit architecture, later this summer, and with the growing popularity of Linux, the chip giant decided to publish information without these restrictions.

IA-64 chips will be able to process 64 bits of information at a time, whereas current processors deal with instructions that can only have 32 bits. This changed architecture, which Intel describes as its biggest since the release of the 386 in 1985, opens the door to high-end systems based on Intel chips with vastly improved performance.

Intel has developed an instruction set as part of the architecture called EPIC (Explicitly Parallel Instruction Computing), which marries massive processing resources with intelligent compilers in order to make parallel execution specific to the chip. The reference guide is therefore important because Itanium will be far more dependent on the quality of compilers than previous Intel chips.

Itanium is set to go into production in the third quarter with a clock speed of 800Mhz. The next member of the IA-64 family will be McKinley, due in late 2001.

However, analysts said the IA-64 platform needs to become proven before it will make any impact on the market.

Clive Longbottom, service director at Strategy Partners, said a 'hyper-scalable' microprocessor meant little until 64-bit optimised operating systems became available.

"Expecting improved performance with Itanium is like putting Linford Christie's shoes on the feet of a middle-aged man with a large stomach and expecting him to go faster," said Longbottom.

Enterprise users would more likely wait until the arrival of McKinley before deploying IA-64 in product environments, according t o Longbottom, who added that users may have to wait until 2003 for the delivery of a 64-bit version of Windows 2000.

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