Itanium is Intel's first microprocessor that is based on the 64-bit architecture known as IA-64 . Developed under the code name of Merced , Itanium and its underlying architecture are expected to provide a foundation for the next-generation of software for the server and high-end workstation markets.
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Intel plans to follow Itanium with additional IA-64 microprocessors, which have the code names of McKinley, Madison, and Deerfield.
In addition to supporting a 64-bit processor bus and a set of 28 register s, the 64-bit design allows access to a very large memory (VLM). In addition, the architecture exploits features in Explicitly Parallel Instruction Computing ( EPIC ), a joint Intel and Hewlett-Packard development effort. These provide advances in the parallel processing handling of computer instruction s known as predication and speculation .
Most applications in use today are based on a 32-bit microprocessor architecture, and are designed for up to 4 gigabytes of memory. However, with application access to ever-larger databases becoming more important, many of the leading software and hardware suppliers in the computer industry have already begun to develop systems and applications for the Itanium and its ability to handle 64-bit address space.
One feature of Itanium is its use of a "smart compiler " to optimize how instructions are sent to the processor. This approach allows Itanium and future IA-64 microprocessors to process more instructions per clock cycle (IPCs). (IPCs can be used along with clock speed in terms of megahertz (MHz) to indicate a microprocessor's overall performance.)
Itanium is viewed by Intel and industry observers as a new level of hardware platform for the UNIX and Windows server market and also for the high-end PC workstation market with its memory- and graphics- intensive scientific, technical, and high-end graphics applications. Observers say Itanium-based servers will be especially suited for today's large enterprise computing environments with data warehouses and a requirement for intensive processing for complex queries and transactions.
Virtually all of the major manufacturers and suppliers of today's applications, high-end systems, operating systems, and computer hardware have endorsed Itanium and the IA-64 line of processors. More than 30 Itanium-based systems are expected to come to the marketplace in 2001. Some reports indicate that Itanium's IA-64 architecture will own its market through 2003, at which point some competitive "next-generation" microprocessors may begin to be seen. This window of opportunity allows Intel to capitalize on the popularity of IA-64, and to develop profitable original equipment manufacturer arrangements with other vendors, suppliers, and manufacturers in the computer industry. Itanium and IA-64 also support 32-bit applications.