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Opteron's compatibility with existing 32-bit technology means users will not have to upgrade software that is already in use.
Simon Cole, AMD's strategic marketing manager, said, "The big shake-up will come from the compatibility. At the moment there are two islands of computing: 32-bit and 64-bit."
Users today are either on one island or the other, but Cole said the new processor will provide a bridge between the two. "Opteron doesn't force users to upgrade - you can run 64-bit where you need to and 32-bit where you have to. It will be cost-effective," he said.
Cole foresees Opteron lowering the cost of 64-bit computing - price has prevented users from investing in the technology. He said, "At the moment you need a big Unix box to run 64-bit computing. Opteron will lower the entry cost for that."
Although unable to provide specific examples of potential cost-savings prior to the launch of Opteron, Cole is certain that it will be a cost-effective option for users. "It opens the doors to what was previously prohibitively expensive," he said. Cole also confirmed that AMD will launch Athlon 64, a desktop version of Opteron, in September.
AMD's plans come at a time of heightened activity in the 64-bit market. Hardware giant Dell is planning to launch Itanium-based products later this year and Microsoft's Windows Server 2003, which is due to be launched two days after Opteron, will support both 32-bit and 64-bit processors.
Analysts have already predicted that Dell's foray into Itanium could bring prices down by as much as a third in the 64-bit market. Jonathan Eunice, principal analyst at Illuminata, said, "The roll out of Itanium from a supplier such as Dell could push the cost of machines using 64-bit technology down by at least 20% or 30% within a year.
"Lower-cost 64-bit technology will be particularly useful for users working with high-performance computing and, secondarily, databases."
Andy Butler, an analyst with Gartner, also believes that Dell's foray into Itanium will stimulate the 64-bit market, although he was unable to quantify how much users could save. "The savings are going to come from price competition between Dell Itanium systems and existing 64-bit Risc systems," he said. "For example, a Dell Itanium processor could be very cost-effective against a 64-bit Risc system from the likes of Sun and IBM."