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Intel's 32-bit on Itanium Preview to Come in Windows 2003 SP1 Beta

In partnership with Microsoft, Intel will give a customer preview of its 32-bit execution layer for 64-bit Itanium 2 processors in the beta of Service Pack 1 for Windows Server 2003.

The inability of the Itanium Family processors to run 32-bit applications without a large performance penalty has been a major shortcoming of Intel's 64-bit Itanium line that has negatively affected industry adoption. Applications written for Itanium's new EPIC instruction set have been slow to materialize, and, even when applications are present, budgetary restraints due to economic conditions have kept users from splurging on purchases of a completely new architecture from processors to servers to operating systems to applications.

Intel currently supports applications written using the x86 instruction set on its Itanium chips, but the chipmaker does so through hardware that has proven inefficient.

In the Windows 2003 SP1 beta, Intel says it will offer a preview version of the 32-bit execution layer that will cause the Itanium 2 processors to run x86 applications at the full clockspeed rating of the processor. For example, the 1.5-GHz Itanium 2 "Madison" processors launched this week would offer that clockspeed to 32-bit applications, as well.

If Intel can deliver the final version of the technology by Windows Server 2003 SP1, it could blunt any momentum that rival chipmaker AMD builds up with its Opteron and AMD Athlon 64 processors. AMD is trying to exploit the disconnect between 32- and 64-bit performance in Itanium with its own 64-bit processors that use the x86 instruction set, allowing 32-bit applications native access to more of the chips' capabilities. The Opteron shipped in late April, and a new eight-processor capable version came out this week.

Meanwhile, Windows Server 2003 SP1, which is expected to be available in the fourth quarter, is filling up as a delivery vehicle for new features. Microsoft plans to introduce formal support for the AMD 64-bit processors in SP1 and also has plans to introduce a security configuration wizard that locks down systems according to server roles during setup.

About the Author

Scott Bekker is editor in chief of Redmond Channel Partner magazine.

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