Seeking 64-Bit Support from Developers

With its next-generation microprocessor poised to make its debut, Intel Corp. ( is pulling out all stops to promote the 64-bit chip into the enterprise. In midsummer, the semiconductor giant stepped up efforts to pitch Itanium to developers with an Internet release of an architectural reference guide.

With help from Microsoft Corp. (, Intel has been aggressively courting developers to move over to Itanium. In March, both companies announced initiatives aimed at encouraging developers to port software to and create software for Windows 2000 on IA-64. Additionally, the companies opened a 64-bit Windows Developer's Lab on Microsoft's Redmond campus to support the porting and tuning of software applications to 64-bit Windows running on Itanium.

The partners also announced the first version of an IA-64 SDK for 64-bit Windows, intended to provide the latest operating system release versions, compilers, and software libraries to hardware and software developers. At the same time, Intel and Microsoft announced in mid-July a preview release of 64-bit Windows 2000 for Itanium. Both companies also announced the availability of updated Itanium SDK and driver development kits.

Shortly thereafter, Intel took the wraps off round two of its Itanium ramp-up for developers, beginning with the official Itanium Processor Microarchitecture Reference guide ( The Itanium Processor Microarchitecture Reference describes features of the Itanium processor's implementation of IA-64 that are relevant to developers of compilers and performance software. The document contains detailed information on microarchitecture features including cache hierarchies, memory management details, and instruction execution latencies to enable development of IA-64 software.

Intel says that it published the guide on the Internet to broaden the availability of software optimized to take advantage of Itanium's unique features and performance. "The Internet gives us a great way to tap into the expertise of the broad developer community," explains Ron Curry, director of IA-64 marketing at Intel.

Itanium represents a distinct departure for the semiconductor giant. For decades, Intel peddled complex instruction set computing (CISC) chips based on its venerable x86 architecture. Intel's new IA-64 architecture, on the other hand, is based on a new design model -- EPIC (explicitly parallel instruction computing) -- that is said to outstrip the capabilities of both CISC and RISC chips.

But because it's so new and features a bevy of enhanced features -- including intelligent compilers that make parallel execution explicit to the microprocessor -- Itanium represents a giant programming learning curve for most developers. Intel believes that its online reference guide will provide essential information to help developers design compilers and related software to best exploit IA-64.

According to Curry, his company's latest move serves to underscore the support that Itanium has garnered from industry heavyweights, such as Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard Co. (, IBM Corp. (, and others. "Intel and the industry have been conducting one of the most comprehensive enabling programs in history to deliver optimized IA-64 software and hardware solutions in parallel," he explains.

To lay a firm foundation for the acceptance of the next-generation microprocessor, Intel and its partners are aggressively supporting an Itanium "enabling" program that has distributed prototype servers and workstations to thousands of developers.

Moreover, Intel and Microsoft have created Itanium "net farms" that provide programmers with remote access -- by virtue of virtual private network or terminal services and by means of 64-bit Windows' remote command capabilities -- to the Itanium-based systems that they need to build and test their applications.