All modern processors work on a 64-bit architecture, but still have 32-bit and 16-bit support. The Intel x86S architecture that the company has presented in a white paper aims to simplify the entire hardware and software ecosystem by removing any legacy components and running exclusively in a 64-bit mode.
64-bit architectures completely dominate global consumer computing. Although they were already used in servers and data centers, it was at the beginning of this century that they began to reach personal computers in a general way to overcome the limitations of 32-bit processors, which, as an example, are only capable of handling up to 4 GB of RAM.
In operating systems, Microsoft has eliminated the 32-bit version in Windows 11 and there will be no going back. Future systems such as Windows 12 will only be 64-bit versions and will require 64-bit drivers compulsorily. However, they still maintain software backwards compatibility and support 32-bit applications with special compatibility modes to support older software in their vast ecosystem.
Intel x86S: 64-bit only
Something similar happens in CPUs. Intel firmware no longer supports non-UEFI 64 operating systems natively, and all current Intel or AMD processors work in 64-bit. As it happens in software and to maintain compatibility, they also support 32 bits.
Intel thinks it’s time to end it. Certain legacy modes have very little use in modern operating systems other than booting the CPU in 64-bit mode. And so it is worth asking the question: “Could these rarely used elements be removed to simplify a 64-bit only architecture?”
It is the idea behind this new Intel x86S architecture. The company has published a whitepaper detailing the architectural improvements and modifications that Intel is currently investigating to achieve this architecture. The document release is focused on soliciting industry feedback while exploring the benefits of extending ISA’s transition to a 64-bit only mode solution.
According to the company, these types of architectures would reduce the overall complexity in software and hardware and would allow other changes for the implementation of modern software. To continue to support legacy systems, Intel is proposing the use of virtualization, which allows you to emulate the features needed to boot legacy operating systems, but without touching the main host system.
And not just on PCs. The strategy also extends to mobility, and Google has already laid out a roadmap for the transition, paving the way for 64-bit versions of Android and requiring developers to submit apps to Google Play. Store included 64-bit builds since mid-2019. There is even evidence that it will require device manufacturers to send 64-bit apps to continue using their mobile services. Presumably, this requirement will come with the future Android 15.
The final transition to 64-bit modes that completely ditch previous legacy components is underway, hence the interest in this Intel x86S. If you are interested, you can download the technical document of the project in PDF.