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Microsoft Releases 32-bit Driver for Intel Itanium 2

Microsoft posted a software driver to its Web site this week that executes 32-bit code on Intel's 64-bit Itanium 2 processors.

The driver is the culmination of an effort by Intel to address several problems: that it's 32-bit emulation in Itanium hardware was ineffective; that the hassle of porting 32-bit applications was an impediment to adoption of the 64-bit architecture; and the competitive threat of AMD's Opteron processors, which use the familiar x86 instruction set for both 32-bit and 64-bit processing.

In announcing the availability of the Windows driver, formally called the IA-32 Execution Layer (EL), on Tuesday, Intel acknowledged that the performance isn't as strong as it had originally hoped it would be.

Mike Fister, senior vice president and general manager for Intel's enterprise platforms group, said organizations could expect 50 percent to 70 percent of the clockspeed performance of the Itanium processor when running 32-bit applications through the driver. Back in July, Intel had floated the possibility that the execution layer would allow x86 applications to run at the full clockspeed rating of the underlying Itanium 2 processor.

Meanwhile, Microsoft's download page for the driver (www.microsoft.com/windowsserver2003/64bit/ipf/ia32el.mspx), recommended that 32-bit managed code applications, such as those built on the .NET Framework, should be run on native 32-bit hardware rather than through the driver.

Nonetheless, the availability of the driver is not a good sign for AMD, which only last week got a Windows platform beta out of Microsoft for its 64-bit processors.

About the Author

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

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