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Amid rumours about Intel’s x86 processors with 64-bit enhancements coming out “sometime in future”, Intel Corporation continues to boost performance of 32-bit apps on Intel Itanium 2 processors. Recently the company unveiled its specially developed IA32 Execution Layer that boosts performance of 32-bit applications under Microsoft Windows operating system.

Intel Itanium 2 processors can unleash stunning performance when operating in 64-bit mode in specially designed apps. Unfortunately, IA64 chips cannot perform really well in widely-available software programmed for 32-bit systems and pure performance in such applications is a large drawback of Intel Itanium 2 systems. Even though all Itanium chips have a special on-die hardware to emulate x86, it looks like sometimes it is more efficient to use software IA32 Execution Layer that translates the IA32 application code into native Itanium architecture code and allows it to run as native code.

Earlier this year Intel said that IA32 Execution Layer code-named “btrans”, will give the 1.50GHz Itanium 2 an ability to run 32-bit software about as fast as 1.50GHz Xeon MP processors, but given not really high core-clocks of Itanium CPUs, performance of such IA64/32 system will not exceed that of Intel Xeon MP 2.0GHz-based solution much.

Since emulation cannot be really fast in almost any case, Intel’s Execution Layer should not change the company’s strategy to encourage customers to utilise 64-bit software instead of 32-bit software. Moreover, those, who need high performance in 32-bit applications, will still have to acquire Intel Xeon or AMD Opteron-based systems.

IA32 Execution Layer is supported in Windows Server 2003 Enterprise Edition for 64-bit Itanium-based Systems; Windows Server 2003 Datacenter Edition for 64-bit Itanium-based Systems; and Windows XP 64-bit Edition. The software is available for download over here. After installation, execution of the 32-bit applications is transparently run using IA32 EL.

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