Intel Goes Public with Itanium Microarchitecture

SAN FRANCISCO (05/10/2000) - Chip giant Intel Corp. today took what was an unprecedented step for the company in publishing on its Web site a guide detailing the full functional behavior of its forthcoming Itanium processor.

This is the first time Intel has ever revealed such details about one of its products, especially one that has yet to be released, although such openness is already commonplace among some of the vendor's microprocessor rivals.

Known as the Itanium Processor Microarchitecture Reference (http://developer.intel.com/design/ia-64), the guide is aimed at software developers as an attempt to encourage them to develop optimized products for the upcoming chip, according to Jason Waxman, Intel's IA-64 program marketing manager, based in Santa Clara, California.

"It's unprecedented for Intel to make such information publicly available prior to the product being in production," Waxman said in a phone interview yesterday. "We will use the Internet as a key channel for Itanium."

"It's a sign of how much we want the industry to be able to port and use IA-64," said Olivier Riviere, Intel IA-64 market program manager at a London company briefing yesterday. "From a software development point, you can't do more."

Waxman said that depending on the success of the Itanium Processor Microarchitecture Reference, Intel may consider opening up other company architectures and future products.

Itanium, the first processor based on the company's IA-64 architecture, is due to go into production in the third quarter of this year along with the 460GX chipset, Waxman said. The chip will be Intel's first 64-bit processor and should be seen as the most important development in the company's history since the release of the vendor's first 32-bit chip, the 386 processor, back in 1985, he added.

When Intel released the 386 processor, there was only a handful of software companies the company needed to deal with in order to ensure that optimized products were developed for the new architecture, Waxman said. "We've realized that the software development audience is changing and that it's now much more distributed," he added. Developers now include members of the open-source community as well as universities, Waxman said.

Intel's IA-64 architecture is based on an approach the company has dubbed EPIC (explicitly parallel instruction computing), Waxman said. EPIC marries massive processing resources with intelligent compilers in order to make parallel execution specific to the chip, according to Intel.

In May of last year, Intel and Hewlett-Packard Co. released the IA-64 Application Instruction Set Architecture Guide on both of their Web sites to evangelize the new chip architecture to software developers. [See "Intel, HP Release Merced Details," May 26, 1999.] That earlier move with HP was all about encouraging the development of programs to run on the IA-64 architecture so that developers could get to grips with its functionality, while today's guide allows developers to begin tuning and optimizing their software tools for Itanium and future IA-64 chips, Waxman said.

Operating systems including Microsoft Corp.'s 64-bit Windows 2000, IA-64 Linux, Project Monterey (IBM Corp.'s AIX for IA-64), Novell Inc.'s Modesto and HP's HP-UX are already running on preproduction Itanium-based systems, Waxman said.

He expects that beta operating systems for Itanium will be shipping in the later part of the second quarter of this year, with such systems becoming generally available in the second half of this year.

"Intel is in a new situation that it's not been in for a long time, launching a new architecture and instruction set," Linley Gwennap, principal analyst with the Linley Group, based in Mountain View, California, said in a phone interview yesterday. "They see a need to build some momentum behind the new architecture.

Itanium has a good chance of being well accepted in the marketplace."

With Itanium, Intel will be going head-to-head with Sun Microsystems Inc., IBM and Alpha-based processors from Compaq Computer Corp. Of that trio, Sun will be Intel's biggest rival and has already gone further than the chip giant in making its architecture and microprocessors more public to the extent of making Sparc information available so other vendors could build Sparc chips, Gwennap said.

Itanium is set to go into production in the third quarter of this year with a clock speed of 800MHz. The next members of the IA-64 family are set to be McKinley in late 2001, followed by Madison in the following year, Waxman said.

While Waxman wouldn't comment on the strained relations between Intel and Sun over development of an IA-64 version of Sun's Unix operating system Solaris, Intel's Riviere was more forthcoming yesterday in London.

"We are providing technical support to Sun, but we have stopped any other collaboration. We do not feel they are driving the tools along," Riviere said.

"The level of effort done by Sun is not compatible to the level of effort by all the other (OS) players."

Earlier this year, an Intel senior executive said publicly that Sun hadn't delivered on its promise to support IA-64. [See "Intel Turns Away from Solaris Support on IA-64," Feb. 16.]Intel, in Santa Clara, California, can be reached at +1-408-987-8080, or via the Web at http://www.intel.com/.

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