Microsoft Corp. has pulled the plug on a version of Windows XP for Intel Corp.’s Itanium 2 processor. The move marks the end for Itanium 2 in Windows-based workstations and comes after major hardware vendors abandoned the 64-bit chip for use in workstations.

Going forward, Microsoft will focus on processors with 64-bit extensions for use in workstations, instead of Itanium, a company spokeswoman said in a statement Tuesday. Final versions of Windows for 32-bit processors with 64-bit extensions are due in the first half of this year, after several delays.

“Microsoft believes Windows for Itanium-based systems is a stronger offering in the high-end server market,” the spokeswoman said. “For the mainstream server and workstation markets, however, we believe we can best serve customer needs with Windows Server 2003 Standard x64 Edition, and Windows XP Professional x64 Edition.” Microsoft uses “x64” to indicate versions of Windows for processors with 64-bit extensions. Itanium is moving more and more into the mid-to-high-end server space and away from low-end servers and desktopsNathan Brookwood>Text

Workstations are high-performance desktop computers often used by designers and engineers and in video production environments. Processors with 64-bit extensions, as opposed to the Itanium processor, are x86 processors that are capable of 64-bit computing and can also run applications written for the 32-bit processors used in most PCs today.

Intel supports Microsoft discontinuing Windows XP for Itanium, officially called Windows XP 64-Bit Edition Version 2003.

“We’re aware of Microsoft’s plans and agree with their priorities and direction,” said Erica Fields, an Intel spokeswoman. “The workstation market really has never been a main focus for the Itanium. Xeon with 64-bit capabilities really provides the best overall price performance for the workstation market.”

Hewlett-Packard Co. (HP), the last remaining major workstation vendor to sell Itanium-based workstations, stopped selling the systems in September last year, citing market conditions. HP had been selling two Itanium 2-based workstation models since April 2003. Dell Inc. pulled its Itanium workstations off the market before HP did.

Since nobody was selling the software, Microsoft’s retiring of Windows XP for Itanium is no great surprise, said Nathan Brookwood, principal analyst with research company Insight 64, in Saratoga, Calif.

“It has been increasingly obvious over the last year that Itanium is moving more and more into the mid-to-high-end server space and away from low-end servers and desktops,” Brookwood said.

64-bit systems offer users greater computing power as systems can process more data per clock cycle and can use larger amounts of memory. Advanced Micro Devices Inc.’s Athlon64 and Opteron processors, as well as Intel’s Xeon processors, currently support 64-bit extensions.

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