Days are numbered for 32-bit chips, says AMD

Advanced Micro Devices will probably stop producing 32-bit processors by the end of 2005, a senior AMD executive predicted during...

Advanced Micro Devices will probably stop producing 32-bit processors by the end of 2005, a senior AMD executive predicted during a panel discussion on AMD's 64-bit processors at Comdex in Las Vegas.

Marty Seyer, vice-president and general manager of AMD's Microprocessor Business Unit, said that AMD intends to keep selling 32-bit chips "as long as customers want them".

He added that as the price of AMD's 64-bit Opteron and Athlon 64 processors drop, customers will have less reason to purchase 32-bit processors.

Though the majority of AMD shipments are 32-bit processors, its 64-bit chips are designed to also run 32-bit applications without taking a hit in performance.

AMD will ship tens of millions of 64-bit processors in 2004, largely by dropping prices of the processors so they are no longer more expensive than AMD's 32-bit chips.

The company expects to ship between 50 and 100 million 64-bit processors over the next three years.

AMD's goals are ambitious, considering that the company had no 64-bit products a year ago, but AMD picked up two new endorsements of its 64-bit systems this week. Sun Microsystems will begin shipping Opteron-based server systems in 2004 and Hewlett-Packard is rolling out its first Athlon 64 system, the Compaq Presario 8000Z.

The "tipping point" for 64-bit systems will come two years later, in 2007, predicted Mark Rein, a vice-president with video game maker Epic Games. 

By then, he predicted, there will be enough 64-bit systems in circulation from both Intel and AMD that companies like Epic will be able to begin shipping games that run only on 64-bit machines.

Epic is already preparing an Athlon 64 version of its Unreal Tournament multi-player action game, slated for release in 2004, and has already migrated its in-house development tools to the 64-bit architecture, Rein said.

But Paul Froutan, the vice-president of engineering with Rackspace Managed Hosting, said that by building 32-bit support into its 64-bit processors, AMD was giving developers less of a reason to port their applications to 64 bits and, therefore, slowing down the adoption of 64-bit systems.

Robert McMillan writes for IDG News Service

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