Fall IDF: AMD prepares for Athlon64 launch

SAN JOSE – The long-awaited launch of Advanced Micro Devices Inc.’s (AMD’s) Athlon64 processor is less than a week away, and it’s only a matter of time before rival Intel Corp. duplicates AMD’s approach, the company said Wednesday.

AMD thinks it has a winner with the Athlon64, which can run both 64-bit and 32-bit applications on a PC with a 64-bit operating system. The idea is to give users excellent 32-bit performance right away, and allow them to migrate to 64-bit applications when they are ready, said John Crank, senior brand manager for AMD’s Athlon product line.

AMD will launch the chip on Tuesday at an event in San Francisco. Desktop and notebooks will be available with the processor as of Tuesday, Crank said.

Many in the industry are skeptical that users need 64-bit performance at this stage, but AMD thinks it can drive a entirely new set of applications by bringing 64-bit technology to the masses. The processor uses a new instruction set, AMD64, which was developed by adding 64-bit instructions to the x86 instruction set used in AMD and Intel processors for several years.

“We will have established AMD64 as the de facto standard for processors by the time Intel jumps on board,” Crank said.

Intel has given no indication that it plans to release a 64-bit desktop processor any time soon. Executives at Intel believe the market for 64-bit computing is several years away, and have said they plan to address the market when it is ready, but have offered no details about how they plan to approach it.

Intel President and Chief Operating Officer Paul Otellini didn’t slam the door shut on the idea of 64-bit extensions to a 32-bit desktop processor during a question and answer session after his keynote Tuesday, but he made it clear he disapproved of the idea at this time.

The Itanium server processor is Intel’s lone 64-bit offering at this point. The chip uses a new instruction set that developers have to learn in order to port their 32-bit applications to Itanium servers.

Rather than trying to sell a processor that would require the rewriting of thousands and thousands of desktop applications, Intel will come out with a processor that uses the same approach to a hybrid 32/64 chip that AMD has adopted, Crank said.

Since only five per cent to 10 per cent of servers in the world have 64-bit capability, Intel isn’t sure why AMD thinks the desktop market needs this type of technology so quickly, said George Alfs, an Intel spokesperson. And without operating system support from Microsoft Corp. until early 2004, AMD will have a hard time getting the chip off the ground, he said.

AMD acknowledges that building a market for 64-bit computing will require a great deal of education, but thinks the ability to address larger amounts of memory and improve overall application performance will win over customers, starting with the gaming market, Crank said.