New processors could drive down cost of 64-bit computing by 60%

Processor giant AMD today launched its new Athlon 64-chip in a move that could help lower the cost of 64-bit computing.

Processor giant AMD today launched its new Athlon 64-chip in a move that could help lower the cost of 64-bit computing.

Traditionally targetted at high-end applications and large databases, users can expect price cuts of up to 60% in 2004 for 64-bit computer systems, making them more viable for mainstream applications and high-end desktop computing.

With its new processor - originally code-named Clawhammer - AMD aims to extend the benefits of 64-bit computing to desktop and mobile PC users. The chip is compatible with 32-bit applications, which means users will not have to upgrade software that is already in use.

Athlon 64 comes hot on the heels of AMD's 64-bit Opteron chip for servers and workstations, which was launched earlier this year, and Intel's low-voltage Deerfield Itanium 2 processor, which was unveiled earlier this month.

Jonathan Eunice, principal analyst at Illuminata, believes the recent frenzy of activity in the 64-bit space by processor manufacturers such as AMD and Intel could be good news for users.

He said, "If you include the likes of the recent Intel Deerfield announcement and the AMD Opteron and Athlon announcements, you could be looking at a 50% to 60% cut in the cost of 64-bit computing by the middle of next year."

But Eunice believes that it is in the server space that most price reductions will happen. He said, "Overall, the cost of 64-bit computing is definitely coming down, but it is in the server space where the real action is right now."

Although aimed at a different sector of the market to its Opteron chip, AMD said Athlon 64 also offered high-performance computing to users. AMD said any application should run faster on the new processor. Memory-intensive applications such as gaming and digital media are likely to benefit most from this boost in performance.

Eunice said, "There are not that many applications that will be great on a 64-bit low-end machine but it does allow you some faster mathematical operations on the PC - so for gaming and multimedia it fits nicely."

However, Eunice was not convinced that Athlon 64 is a viable alternative to Intel's 64-bit Itanium and Xeon chips. He said, "Opteron is the real competitor to Itanium and Xeon - it is the server-optimised AMD chip so it has bigger caches and more of its transistors are devoted to performance and I/O optimisation."

Like the Opteron chip, Athlon 64 uses AMD's Hypertransport technology, a high-speed, low-latency, point-to-point link designed to increase the communication speed between integrated circuits in computers and servers. Athlon 64 contains one Hypertransport link offering 6.4gbps data transfer speeds, whereas the Opteron processor has three.

Eunice believes AMD's latest foray into the processor market will encourage software developers to "get on board with 64-bit". He said, "This is about providing a bigger base of systems that will support the 64-bit architecture."

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