Comdex: AMD readies 64-bit hardware and software

Advanced Micro Devices unveiled a server running its forthcoming 64-bit Opteron server processor and a prototype 64-bit version...

Advanced Micro Devices unveiled a server running its forthcoming 64-bit Opteron server processor and a prototype 64-bit version of Microsoft's Windows operating system at Comdex yesterday.

The display of technology comes a day after analysts and industry executives at the conference debated the future of 64-bit computing in the enterprise and in the home at a roundtable discussion.

Servers using 64-bit processors and operating systems are able to handle computing tasks that require more memory than the 2Gbyte limit of existing 32-bit processors.

Microsoft has already released a 64-bit version of Windows designed specifically for Intel's 64-bit Itanium server processor and is likely to make an AMD version available when the Opteron makes its debut in the first half of next year.

A benefit of AMD's Opteron technology is that it allows companies to keep their existing 32-bit applications on the platform, gradually migrating toward 64 bits as they need more performance or develop new applications.

The Itanium processor uses a different instruction set than the x86 instruction set used by other desktop and server processors from Intel and AMD.

The companies compete against existing 64-bit reduced instruction set computing (RISC) chips from Sun, IBM and others. RISC systems are powerful and well established but relatively expensive. AMD wants to convince users to adopt its lower-cost technologies.

The demand for 64-bit computing is difficult to assess at present, according to a panel of industry experts assembled by AMD.

"Most people agree that it's not a matter of if, it's a matter of when," said Dirk Meyer, vice-president of AMD's computational products group, speaking about the emergence of x86-based 64-bit computing into the enterprise.

However, that "when" might not be soon enough for AMD, which is facing a number of challenges in getting the company back to profitability over the next year.

AMD said it would need to take a restructuring charge of between $300m (£188.7m) and $600m in the fourth quarter, reflecting the company's recent layoffs and cost-cutting initiatives.

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