Intel to unveil 64-bit extensions

Intel plans to unveil its first processor with 64-bit extensions technology next week.

Intel plans to unveil its first processor with 64-bit extensions technology next week.

In February Intel announced that Nocona, the code name for the next-generation of the Xeon processor, would be its first chip to incorporate EM64T technology, its 64-bit extension to the x86 instruction set, a concept pioneered by rival chip maker AMD.

Intel is expected to release Nocona, along with the Tumwater chipset for workstations and the Lindenhurst chipset for servers will follow in the third quarter, although an Intel spokesman declined to comment.

The Nocona processor will allow workstations and servers to run both 32-bit and 64-bit applications on the same system, provided that server uses a 64-bit operating system.

AMD was the first to introduce such a processor with the launch of the Opteron chip in April 2003. As AMD worked toward the release of Opteron, Intel shied away from making concrete predictions about its plans for x86 servers with 64-bit extensions, and said
64-bit desktops would not appear until the end of the decade.

Intel's strategy was complicated by its 64-bit Itanium processor for high-end servers. At one point early in Itanium's history, Intel envisioned that Itanium would become the dominant architecture for its server products, according to analysts.

Itanium is based on a completely different instruction set from Nocona or Opteron, so IT managers who wanted to take advantage of Itanium's performance had to rewrite their applications using an unfamiliar instruction set.

Software support for Itanium has improved in the past few years, but the chip has settled into a role as an alternative to Risc processors from companies such as Sun Microsystems and IBM.

However, several major server suppliers pledged to release Opteron-based servers in 2003 and 2004, including IBM, Sun, and Hewlett-Packard, forcing Intel to respond to the market demand for extension technology in servers.

Opteron allows IT managers to create 64-bit versions of certain applications that can take advantage of the wider registers and address more memory in a 64-bit chip, while still running their crucial 32-bit applications on the same server.

The appeal of x86 64-bit servers will broaden later this year when a 64-bit version of Microsoft's Windows operating system is released. Several 64-bit versions of Linux that will work with either Nocona or Opteron are already available.

Nocona and the new chipsets incorporate other design enhancements besides 64-bit extensions technology. The processor is essentially the same as the 90-nanometer Prescott Pentium 4 processor unveiled earlier this year, with 1Mbyte of Level 2 cache and an 800MHz front-side bus.

The latest Xeon processor will also support the PCI Express interconnect technology along with the Tumwater and Lindenhurst chipsets. PCI Express is a fundamental change in a chipset's bus architecture from a parallel design to a serial design, which allows signals to move at faster rates throughout the chipset.

Intel will also support DDR2 (double data rate) memory, which can operate more reliably at high speeds with the new processors and chipsets than its predecessor, DDR.

IBM, HP, and Dell have all said they will support the Nocona processor in their servers.

Tom Krazit writes for IDG News Service

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