Linux 6.7 kernel has retired support for Intel Itanium (IA-64) processors
July 29, 2021, marked the final shipment date of the Itanium processor, as Intel bid farewell to this pure 64-bit processor utilizing the IA-64 instruction set. This cessation had been confirmed by Intel as early as the beginning of 2019, with Hewlett-Packard Enterprise (HPE) being the sole remaining client for the Itanium processor. HPE’s services are set to offer support until December 31, 2025.
According to reports from Phoronix, recent updates to the Linux kernel version 6.7 have ceased support for the Intel Itanium processor, signaling the end of the road for this product, once designed for servers and high-end computing workloads. The removal of IA-64 instruction set support from the Linux kernel is poised to have a profound impact, given that Linux serves as the foundational operating system for Itanium processors. Without ongoing update support, usability will inevitably decline, compelling the few remaining users to transition to alternative solutions.
Intel’s initial foray into the Itanium processor line dates back to 2001, featuring the IA-64 instruction set developed in collaboration with Hewlett-Packard, based on Explicitly Parallel Instruction Computing (EPIC), and targeting the server market. Intel and HP touted it as a critical mission product for server use. Despite its promising conception, the Itanium processor’s high-end positioning, exorbitant costs, and the requisite abandonment of existing software ecosystems rendered its promotion challenging from the outset. Intel found itself on the back foot following AMD’s alliance with Microsoft in launching the x86-64 instruction set and releasing the Opteron series of processors aimed at the server market.
When Intel decided to adopt the x86-64 instruction set as well, the fate of the Itanium processor seemed sealed. The last update to the Itanium processor came in 2017 with the release of the 9700 series, codenamed ‘Kittson,’ offering a maximum of 8 cores and 16 threads, and still employing the 32nm HKMG process, with memory support limited to DDR3-1066. In fact, after the release of the 9500 series, codenamed ‘Poulson,’ in 2012, the series had entered a state of semi-abandonment, no longer advancing in architecture or adopting new processes. Thus, the Itanium 9700 series did not even transition to the 22nm process.