Could Dell choose AMD's 64-bit chips over Itanium?

Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) is thought to be closing a deal that will make it an alternative chip supplier for Dell when its...

Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) is thought to be closing a deal that will make it an alternative chip supplier for Dell when its 64-bit chips appear at the end of the year, writes Eric Doyle.

Dell chairman and chief executive Michael Dell invited speculation at the Merrill Lynch Hardware Heaven conference.

Referring to AMD's Opteron and Athlon chips during his keynote speech, he said, "We are very interested, and we are looking. There is not much more to say in public. We are very encouraged to see the innovations that are going on, not only by our current supplier but also future, potential suppliers."

AMD's Opteron and Athlon 64-bit chips - formerly known as Sledgehammer and Clawhammer - have gained more credibility since Microsoft confirmed its support last month.

This was further emphasised at the Gartner Symposium, where AMD and Microsoft made a joint presentation focusing on favourable Windows server benchmarks on multiprocessor systems and future plans for Windows.

The next release of Windows servers, the Windows .net Server series, will be brought out in a version that supports AMD's 64-bit architecture's optimised features. It will compete head-to-head with the Intel version of the software. Interestingly, this goes against Microsoft's aim to reduce the number of versions of Windows.

Together, Dell's comments and Microsoft's support show the ambivalence in the market regarding the success of Intel's Itanium chip.

AMD has extended the x86 architecture that Intel developed in the 1980s into the 64-bit arena. In contrast, Itanium is a new architecture that runs 32-bit applications in emulation mode. AMD claims that this means applications run slower than on its own chips. But with few Athlon samples available, and no Opteron chips, this is far from proven.

Even Intel is said to be worried enough about Itanium to have a fall-back x86 64-bit chip, reputedly codenamed Yamhill, waiting in the wings.

At the Gartner Symposium Microsoft revealed that it plans to release a cut-down version of Windows .net specially tailored for Web servers. This is being seen as a firefighting effort in the face of the vast number of Web servers in which the Linux operating system is currently being used.

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