The Age of Itanium
By the end of this year, the first 64-bit Intel systems will begin to hit the market. What does this mean for Linux?
The 64-bit Difference
After years of hype and anticipation, Intel Corp. is about to make the leap into the big leagues. In the second quarter of this year, the Santa Clara, CA chip-maker will join the likes of Sun, IBM, and SGI as a maker of 64-bit microprocessors in the hopes of penetrating the serious enterprise customer base that is the bread and butter of these companies.
The release of Intel’s first 64-bit processor, called Itanium, is expected to mark a sea change in the Unix workstation and server market, putting great pressure on other RISC (Reduced Instruction Set Computer) processor platforms and catapulting Linux into a critical role as the key Unix operating system on a platform backed by one of the most successful high-technology companies on the planet.
Itanium is not a RISC platform but instead a new architecture developed by Intel and Hewlett-Packard, known as Epic (Explicitly Parallel Instruction Computing). Most desktop computers are either 16- or 32-bit. The number of bits is the size of the basic data unit used internally by the chip, which usually determines the amount of information that can be processed at a time. The amount of memory that the chip can use is determined by the size of the address bus, which is typically also 64 bits in a 64-bit chip. The move from 32-bit to 64-bit processors increases the maximum amount of memory that can be addressed directly from 4 Gbytes to 16 Ebytes (or 16 million terabytes). Intel engineers compare this huge increase to the difference between the distance one can throw a heavy ball and the distance between Earth and the sun.
The applications that will benefit most from Itanium are those requiring massive databases, scientific and technical computing, and e-commerce requiring high-demand Web servers. Itanium will potentially enable information from an entire database to reside in physical memory all at once, greatly improving performance, rather than being pulled from the hard disk when required.
Linux Magazine /
March 2000 / FEATURES
The Age of Itanium