Intel promises 64-bit extensions technology

Intel's next-generation Xeon processor and future versions of the Prescott processors will come with 64-bit extensions...

Intel's next-generation Xeon processor and future versions of the Prescott processors will come with 64-bit extensions technology.

Chief executive officer Craig Barrett demonstrated the technology on a Dell Precision workstation equipped with the forthcoming Xeon processors during his opening keynote address at the Intel Developer Forum in San Francisco.

Attendees were shown a demonstration of 32-bit and 64-bit aircraft design applications running on a single system.

Intel joins Advanced Micro Devices in releasing a processor with 64-bit extensions technology, which has attracted the interest of major server companies such as IBM and Sun Microsystems.

Barrett said Intel's 64-bit extension technology will be software compatible with AMD's 64-bit extension technology, despite a few architectural differences.

The first Intel chip to take advantage of the 64-bit extensions technology will be Nocona, the next generation of the Xeon DP processors for workstations and low-end servers.

Nocona is scheduled for release in the second quarter. Microsoft chief executive officer Steve Ballmer said Windows Server 2003 for 64-bit Extended Systems will support Nocona.

Future versions of both the Prescott processor and the Xeon MP processor will also include this technology.

With IBM and Sun jumping on board with support for 64-bit extensions in the form of AMD's Opteron server processor, and Hewlett-Packard signalling its interest in 64-bit extensions technology, Intel had to put the technology on its public road map, said Illuminata analyst Gordon Haff.

Some of Intel's reluctance to discuss extensions technology was born of the Itanium project, with which Intel envisioned taking over the server market, he added.

Itanium is a 64-bit processor that uses a completely different instruction set from the x86 processors such as Opteron and Nocona. Intel markets the chip as a replacement for Risc (reduced instruction set computing) processors from companies such as Sun and IBM, and has some compelling performance data to back up their claims.

But IT managers have not flocked to Itanium servers, in part because any 32-bit applications that they want to run on an Itanium server have to be rewritten for the new instruction set to take advantage of the performance capabilities.

Itanium does run 32-bit applications in a software compatibility mode, but the 32-bit performance of those applications is hard to swallow when compared with the 32-bit performance of Xeon and Opteron and the Itanium's high price tag.

Both technologies have a future, according to Intel and analysts. As more applications are developed for Itanium, more and more companies will take advantage of its performance, Barrett said. The Nocona processor will allow companies to develop 64-bit applications while maintaining their existing base of 32-bit applications, he said.

Tom Krazit writes for IDG News Service

Read more on Server hardware