The Linux kernel will no longer support Intel Itanium processors following a decision by Linus Torvalds to merge a patch marking the architecture as orphaned.
“HPE no longer accepts orders for new Itanium hardware, and Intel stopped accepting orders a year ago,” said Torvalds in a comment on the code. “While Intel is still officially shipping chips until July 29, 2021, it’s unlikely that any such orders actually exist. It’s dead, Jim.”
Itanium was jointly developed by HP and Intel, and is used in HP Integrity servers. When it was under development in the ’90s, it was intended to be the dominant future architecture for enterprise computing and killed off competing efforts such as DEC Alpha. It was supported by Windows NT, HP-US, Linux, OpenVMS, Solaris and others.
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The first Itanium processor was released in 2001 but performance was disappointing, giving AMD an opportunity with its AMD64 architecture. The AMD x86-64 instruction set was eventually also adopted by Intel and became the industry standard, offering a smooth upgrade from 32-bit x86.
Itanium continued with HP’s support right up to the 2017 release of Itanium 9700 “Kittson“, though this only improved the clock speed over the Itanium 9500 from five years before.
At the time Intel said that “the 9700 series will be the last Intel Itanium processor” and pointed customers towards Xeon-based platforms.
In February 2019, the company announced that the final shipment of Itanium would be in July this year. The last version of Windows to support Itanium was Windows Server 2008 R2, but those with Itanium boxes can continue to enjoy a supported version of Unix, HP-UX 11, until 31 December 2025.
Itanium proved to be a blind alley, and its failure is a factor in Intel’s struggles today as well as in the ascendance of ARM-based processors, now not only dominant in mobile and embedded systems but also adopted by Apple for its M1 processors and for server CPUs such as Graviton from Amazon Web Services. ®