Intel takes up 64-bit baton

Intel will release a server version of its 64-bit extensions technology for its x86 platform in 60 days, and as users refresh...

Intel will release a server version of its 64-bit extensions technology for its x86 platform in 60 days, and as users refresh their servers over the next two years, they will get
64-bit computing capability - whether they want it or not. 

But analysts say it remains uncertain whether application developers will give users a reason to take advantage of this 64-bit computing capacity. 

The arrival of the 64-bit x86 chip, which can also run 32-bit applications, "really opens the door to all [independent software suppliers] to at least consider whether they should 64-bit-enable their applications," said Gordon Haff, an analyst at Illuminata.

If there is any benefit, they will have to act - particularly if they need to keep pace with competitors, he said. 

The x86, 64-bit extended platform gives users the opportunity to experiment with 64-bit applications, something that was previously possible only on dedicated systems, said Charles King, an analyst at the Sageza Group. "It has a good deal of flexibility, and I think that flexibility is something that will appeal with a lot of businesses." 

"Intel is refreshing its whole product line, so no product will have merely the 32-bit [chip]," said Rich Partridge, an analyst at market research firm DH Brown Associates. "Eventually, all their products will be 64-bit design." 

But Partridge said users might see a break on prices for 32-bit systems as the new servers arrive. 

Intel announced its workstation 64-bit extensions technology, even as Hewlett-Packard and Dell both announced workstations built on the new chip. But Dell, unlike HP, Sun and IBM, is not delivering Opteron-based hardware, and a company spokesman said it has no plans to do so in the near future, although it continues to "look at" AMD's technology. 

IBM officials declined to comment on their plans for Intel's new chip line, but the company is expected to eventually ship products built on it, according to analysts. 

Sun, which has plans to eventually develop an eight-way Opteron system, intends to evaluate the Intel chip but has not announced any detailed plans to ship systems with it. 

John Fowler, the executive vice-president of Sun's networked systems groups, said he expects Opteron to outperform the Intel chip. "But I'm not religious about the microprocessor; I'm just out to deliver the best possible value," he said. 

High-end users already have large Sparc Risc-based systems and Itanium for running 64-bit applications. But Opteron has been making inroads in the high-performance computing space, especially among Linux users in clustered environments, because it is less expensive than Unix systems. 

In November 2003, about six months after Opteron was released, AMD had four spots on the Top500 supercomputer list, including one system run by AMD. 

By the time the semiannual list was updated last week, Opteron had nearly 30 spots at university, government and military facilities, including the number 10 position, the Shanghai Supercomputer Center. 

Private-sector supercomputer users on the list include Volkswagen and unidentified financial service and automotive users. Intel, however, dominates the compilation, with 286 spots.

Patrick Thibodeau writes for Computerworld

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