Compatible, but with a catch. In a press update on Intel's new 64-bit processor, the company's Asia-Pacific Itanium program manager, William Wu, has given the assurance that existing 32-bit operating systems will be able to run on the Itanium platform, albeit without the performance enhancements of a 64-bit system.
However, the source code of 32-bit applications will have to be recompiled in order for them to run on a 64-bit Itanium-based operating system.
Itanium is the first processor based on Intel's IA-64 architecture, and is widely seen as the most important development since the release of the vendor's first 32-bit chip, the 386 processor, back in 1985.
Asked about potential hiccups in Itanium deployment posed by backward compatibility issues, Philip Wee, marketing manager of enterprise business development, Intel Asia-Pacific, said the likelihood of companies porting over entire applications to the Itanium platform - and therefore having to recompile all the source code - will be "relatively low".
"Instead, what we expect is that it will build new functionalities on Itanium and add a gateway to its existing systems," he said.
Intel is targeting Itanium at the back-end server market, as well as compute-intensive systems for scientific and graphics applications. Wee noted that the market for high-end systems costing more than $US25,000 is expected to grow, fuelled by the emergence of Internet data centres. The $10,000 to $25,000 server market has also been experiencing high growth of 39 per cent quarter on quarter and 103 per cent year on year, suggesting that this is also the next major growth segment, he said.
Intel is positioning Itanium to take on these markets, with its EPIC (explicitly parallel instruction computing) technology that is said to marry massive processing resources with intelligent compilers in order to make parallel execution specific to the chip.
Wu explained that the Itanium compiler views a wider scope of a program source code which it compiles into parallel machine code. This is stored in the register, reducing the need for code retrieval during execution and hence improving performance.
Describing Itanium as a "totally new architecture designed from ground up", Wu said the architecture is expected to overtake RISC (reduced instruction set computing) in 2004.