Itanium Waves Goodbye As Intel Delivers Last Shipments of Now Forgotten Processor Family

Intel Itanium Processor
(Image credit: Tech Central)

Intel's Itanium lineup of 64-bit processors was an attempt at making non-x86 designs that were meant for server and enterprise workloads. As of July 29th, Intel has shipped its last batch of Itanium processors to customers and thus ended the era of this processor family.

Intel Itanium is a 64-bit processor family based on IA-64 Instruction Set Architecture (ISA). In a joint venture with Hewlett-Packard (HP), Intel decided to develop a new type of processor that would better suit the modern workloads and implement some new ideas in the processor architecture realm.

Itanium-based systems were pushed heavily by the enterprise branch of HP, called Hewlett-Packard Enterprise (HPE), which produced many server systems that contained Itanium processors. HPE called its Itanium-based systems "Integrity". Several other vendors have been involved in the production of Itanium-based systems as well, but HP was the primary driver of the platform growth.

HP even developed its own special HP-UX operating system (OS) based on Unix System V. This OS was used to power HPE Integrity servers running Itanium processors and PA-RISC instruction set architecture, which was also highly specialized ISA exclusive to HP.

IA-64 processors promised more efficiency because they lacked the massive legacy software support that x86 processors carry. Being a Very Long Instruction Word (VLIW) architecture, the Itanium architecture relies on a software compiler to calculate in advance which instructions can be executed in parallel, so the processor doesn't waste instruction cycles.

In theory, this would work well, but, in practice it resulted in limited software support for everyday server workloads, due to the need for special compilers. HP's own HP-UX OS support is ending with the Integrity servers based on Itanium processors, which are supposed to be supported until December 31st, 2025. On that date, the latest version of HP-UX, 11i v3 (B.11.31), will be at the end of life.

As the processor family has made its last shipments this year, just a few days ago, we are witnessing the end of an era that lasted for over 20 years. Itanium launched in July 2001, and the latest version called Itanium 9700 "Kittson" has made its final destination on July 29th, when Intel decided to stop any further shipment of the Itanium generation. This marks an era where, currently, Intel is using only the x86-64 architecture in its server processors going forward.

  • waltc3
    Itanium/RDRAM was where Intel wanted to take us; x86-64/DDR SDRAM was AMD's idea of the right direction. Hmmm...sort of easy to see who won that round...;)
  • domih
    IA-64 could not resist the AMD64 Opteron onslaught, that was the first foot in the tomb.

    Then INTEL could see that Xeon was much more profitable, that was the second foot...


    CONCLUSION: never forget your roots and make a new thing incompatible.
  • Alvar "Miles" Udell
    Intel: Let's make Itanium. We can eliminate AMD or force them to pay us massive royalties to use it!

    AMD: Yea...Here's x86-64.

    Intel: #$%@^#$%Q@#...Ok...LAWSUIT!

    Judge: AMD, you get x86. Intel, you get x86-64.
  • jkflipflop98
    That's not how it happened at all, but alright.
  • Findecanor
    The Itanium was quite a ridiculously complex CPU architecture, in my opinion. Quote contrary to the RISC idea of keeping things small and simple.
    I've been told that one of the principal engineers behind it at Intel had died unexpectedly half-way, leaving the rest to supposedly misinterpret his ideas and do design by committee, turning it into a bloated mess that I would liken to hardware's counterpart to COBOL.

    The Itanium project did leave one lasting legacy though: its standard ABI for C and C++, defining new better ways for doing such things as thread-local storage and table-based exception handling.
    It has been so influential that ABI's for CPU's that came after it, including 64-bit x86 and ARM, have patterned theirs after Itanium's, with their documentation sometimes even referring back to the Itanium's.

    Explicit parallel instruction computing (EPIC) is far from a dead concept. Most newer CPU and DSP architectures have incorporated it, but with more efficient instruction encoding.
  • mradr
    I wonder what they will want to try next in the same space/idea. The move away from x86 is already happening, so they can't stay on it forever. I wonder if we will start to see from Intel some type of Big.Little. x86 and instead of atom, ARM base cores. Or even better some type of hybrid core that can still support some of the x86 instructions with a full move to something else. Sort of like the M1 - just at a more hardware level.
  • Alvar "Miles" Udell
    jkflipflop98 said:
    That's not how it happened at all, but alright.

    I know. Essentially Intel went IA-64, AMD developed x86-64, AMD won the war, and as a result AMD and Intel have royalty free cross licensing agreements for x86 and x64.
  • Johnpombrio
    I got to see the first Itanium CPUs when Intel brought in HP/Agilent test support to help finalize the design. They were about ready to launch the new products. It had the most amazing heatsink, a 5-pound hunk of passively cooled aluminum (there was a fan blowing across it but was not part of the heatsink itself). The biggest issue was pointed out during a slide presentation by my buddy doing the software support. The eye on the RAMBUS style memory modules was tiny so they could never get the speed high enough to compete with DRAM at the time. RISC, slow RAM, new chipsets, new UNIX software, all helped to sour the potential advantages of the new CPU. If they had waited 2-3 years for the technology to mature and allow the full potential? Might have been a much different story.
  • kanewolf
    The competition at Itanium launch was not the Opteron, IMO. It was the PowerPC. That was the market that Intel had no answer for.
  • escksu
    Alvar Miles Udell said:
    I know. Essentially Intel went IA-64, AMD developed x86-64, AMD won the war, and as a result AMD and Intel have royalty free cross licensing agreements for x86 and x64.

    Not quite. IA-64 (despite having 64) is an entirely different architecture compared to x86. AMD64 came out in 1999 while IA-64 was 2 yrs later in 2001. IA-64 was only meant for very specific purpose, not mass market CPU.

    I wouldn't say AMD won the war. BEcause Intel had the upperhand in CPU performance since C2D days (around 2007). At that time, Athlon64 was no longer competitive.

    ITs more like Intel killed IA-64. With low cost multi-core CPUs coming out, there was no real need for expensive IA64.