This year, Intel unveiled its first 64-bit Itanium microprocessors as leading PC makers announced their support for the next-generation design. The Itanium, which Intel originally targeted for a 1998 launch, debuted alongside 64-bit releases of Windows, Linux, and Hewlett-Packard's HP-UX, although Intel expects most customers to delay purchases until the second release in the IA-64 microprocessor family (code-named McKinley), which is due next year. The first Itanium versions run at 733MHz and 800MHz, and workstations and servers based on these chips typically use at least 1GB of RAM. (For some background information about Itanium's development, see Michael Otey, "Intel and AMD Power Up 64-Bit Processors," December 2000.)

"This is the next big thing—an architecture for the next 25 years," said Brad Graff, an Itanium product manager, at a briefing in Silicon Valley. "Itanium is the first iteration." Graff said the Itanium's Explicitly Parallel Instruction Computing (EPIC) architecture lets the IA-64 family process more information simultaneously and address larger amounts of memory than 32-bit Pentium systems can. "For people who need more than 4GB or 16GB of RAM," Graff said, "Itanium is ready."

Microsoft has supplied two prerelease versions of Windows for the Itanium: a workstation client, Windows XP 64-Bit Edition, and a server, Windows .NET Advanced Server Limited Edition. As of the time of this writing, Microsoft plans to replace the prerelease version of XP 64-Bit Edition with the final shipping version of XP. When Windows .NET Server (formerly code-named Whistler) ships in early 2002, the final 64-bit versions of .NET Advanced Server and .NET Datacenter Server will replace .NET Advanced Server Limited Edition. (For more information about Windows 64-bit versions, visit the SuperSite for Windows at http://www.winsupersite.com/article/showcase/introducing-windows-64-bit-editions.aspx.)

According to Brian Marr, a product manager for Microsoft's 64-bit OSs, "Windows XP 64-Bit Edition is not for everyone. Technical workstation users who need advanced memory support and fast floating-point performance will get the highest performance and scalability from Itanium. But we're recommending that most users stay on 32-bit."

The primary advantage of Windows on the Itanium, according to Microsoft, is that the system supports more memory. Clyde M. Rodriguez, .NET Server lead program manager, said, "Applications can support more users." He continued: "Memory-intensive applications can perform better if they rely on data access. Databases can store more information directly in RAM, which means less disk paging. \[Windows on the Itanium\] allows for the manipulation of larger data sets; faster video compression for motion picture work; and various modeling, scientific, and financial applications."

Beginning this past summer, major PC makers such as HP began to offer systems based on the new architecture. HP introduced Itanium workstations and servers in various configurations. According to Larry Mahoney, product manager, "The HP Workstation i2000 ships in two configurations. The first is a 1-way system running at 733MHz, with 1GB 100MHz SDRAM, banked four ways. A 2-way system running at 800MHz with 2GB of SDRAM will also be offered. Each configuration supports up to 4GB of main RAM and includes an 18GB Ultra3 SCSI hard drive and NVIDIA's Quadro2 Pro 3D graphics. Prices begin under $7000 for the single-processor system, which is competitive with Sun Microsystems' products." HP also unveiled its HP Server rx4610 series, which supports as many as four 733MHz or 800MHz processors and 10 PCI slots, 8 of which are hot-swappable. The systems support as much as 64GB of RAM. HP's Itanium workstations began shipping to customers in June, the company said, and the first server shipments occurred later in the summer.