Intel is releasing an IA-32 Execution Layer (IA-32 EL) for its 64 bit Itanium processors that will optimize them to run 32 bit programs. The new compiler is available for versions of Windows supporting the Itanium 64 bit and possibly later also for Linux, and it enables the emulation of 32 bit software on the Itanium platform. According to Intel it will give 32 bit applications on the 64 bit Itanium a performance equal to that on a 1.5GHz Xeon processor from Intel.
"As we turn up the frequency of an Itanium, software emulation code will continue to run faster, [between] 50 percent and 70 percent of native, Itanium performance," Fister said. Previously, 32-bit software applications that ran on Itanium were constrained in performance.
By providing emulation for 32-bit applications on Itanium, Intel is directly attacking one of the chief value propositions of the Opteron processor, which is made by Intel rival Advanced Micro Devices. The 64-bit Opteron, launched by AMD last year, is natively backward-compatible with 32-bit software.
Fister said market conditions were improving but said technology spending in the enterprise continues to be targeted. "Some of the top 100 are buying $50 million worth of computers, and a lot of that is for servers," Fister said. "We are seeing that IT spending is going up, but customers are being cautious about their spending. That has been a catalyst to buy Itanium as a replacement for more expensive RISC servers."
Fister and other Intel executives made the announcement during what they called an "Enterprise State of the Union," where the company also unveiled a series of other enhancements to its higher-end road map.
Intel said it would be able to provide a processor core for Itanium that will be half the size of its 32-bit Xeon processors. That would allow twice the number of cores per each die Intel produces during the manufacturing process. "We, very consciously, for the first time today said the Itanium core is smaller than the IA-32 core," said Lisa Graff, Intel's director of Itanium's worldwide ramp. "It's a very big deal. It's that capability, while maybe uninteresting today, when you get to the multicore [processor that] gives you the incredible performance."
Intel also announced to release the Lindenhurst and Tumwater chipsets with faster FSB, PCI Express, DDR2 and Dual Gigabit Ethernet in Q2 2004, along with the Xeon based Nocona processor.
Also said was that the Xeon platform will receive the Prescott New Instructions (PNI) with an 800MHz FSB, PCI Express and enhanced power management.
Other announcements included Intel saying it would produce a four-processor, Xeon MP server blade in the first quarter and roll out Itanium-based blade servers by next year. The new enhancements could provide opportunities for solution providers in migrating customers to the IA 64 platform.
"If their customers had bought RISC, Itanium becomes a big opportunity to capture new business," Graff said. "It gives the channel an edge over their competition."