Intel debuts Itanium with a treat for Linux fans: ‘Jewels' of the IA-64 are necessary for highest calibre of the code

In a move that even Intel officials acknowledge as risky, the chip giant has posted the micro-architecture specifications of its Itanium processor on the Internet to allow developers to begin optimising software for the upcoming IA-64 architecture.

"What we're offering is a document that describes the Itanium micro-architecture in details we would normally only share with major software vendors and hardware vendors under an NDA [nondisclosure agreement]," said Ron Curry, director of IA-64 marketing for Intel.

The IA-64 architecture is based on a unique approach called EPIC, or Explicitly Parallel Instruction Computing, which teams processor resources with intelligent compilers, giving the processor the ability to speculate which calculations happen once and which repeat themselves during any given operation, and resulting in increased data throughput and performance.

By presenting the detailed workings inside the Itanium processor, Intel hopes to give the developers of those compilers and other related software a leg up on maximising the potential of IA-64, according to Curry.

"This kind of information is the jewels of how [Itanium] works," Curry said, adding that such detailed knowledge of Itanium was not required to write compatible software for IA-64 but was necessary for cultivating the highest calibre of software offerings for the 64-bit code.

"It's the kind of info that competitors would like to get their hands on, but we think the value far outweighs the risk," Curry said, referring to the decision to publicly release the Itanium specifications.

Meanwhile, sometime before August, Intel will make "Net farms" available for select developers to upload their software over the Web onto banks of Itanium servers for "real-world" test results.

The online Intel Web Farms will provide test scenarios for compilers and software but not for device drivers, which would require the actual presence of IA-64 computer hardware.

Intel is providing IA-64 test systems to select customers to certify hardware-reliant technologies such as device drivers, according to a source close to the company.

"This is an unusual move for a company that has an ‘only the paranoid survive' mantra," said Mike Feibus, an analyst with Mercury Research.

"But there are a lot of developers out there, particularly in the Linux space, that are doing some interesting work, and there's no way Intel can reach all those people without the Web."

And the move was applauded by Linux supporters, with one member of the Slashdot forum saying this was a "good sign of the success of open development".

However, the sceptical member added: "but I wonder if AMD's resurgence has anything to do with this."

Scheduled to ship during the third quarter of this year, Itanium is the first processor designed for Intel's IA-64 architecture, which company officials are calling the most significant processor development since the 386 processor.

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