Vendors disagree on push  for desktop 64-bit computing

Just weeks after Apple Canada Inc. released the Power Mac G5 and unleashed 64-bit computing on the desktop, not everyone agrees that breaking the 4GB memory barrier is necessary for a typical desktop user.

“No mainstream applications require more than 4MB of memory and probably not that many can take advantage of that on the desktop,” said George Alfs, spokesperson for Intel Corp. based in Santa Clara, Calif.

“Certainly 64-bit is useful in the high-end server space when dealing with lots of database transactions when you need lots of memory,” he said.

The G5 supports up to 8GB of physical memory, twice as much as a 32-bit machine.

With the Pentium 4 on the desktop, Alfs said Intel would continue to push forward only offering 64-bit computing through its Itanium processor for large server solutions.

Hewlett-Packard Canada Co.’s Simon Cole, workstation product manager in Mississauga, Ont., said a user’s decision to move to 64-bit should hinge on one question. Is today’s computer fast enough? “From HP’s point of view, we aren’t using 64-bit computing as a buzz to sell more [computers],” Cole said.

In terms of target markets, there aren’t many industries that are pushing that limit right now, Cole said, other than those requiring workstations and servers.

For Apple – which hasn’t traditionally been a player in the scientific community – the G5 primarily targets graphic designers, developers and video game makers, as well as the education and the research market, said Markham, Ont.-based Bruce Hough, consulting engineer with Apple Canada.

“If [users] are sitting there waiting because their brains can work faster than the machine, then I’d say it’s [time to] upgrade,” he explained.

Apple said the power behind the G5 is found in the PowerPC G5 processor, designed with IBM Corp. The Power Mac uses 64-bit processing technology as well as 64-bit computation, but can still run existing 32-bit applications.

Among the key architecture components is the advanced system controller, Hough said. “The G5 holds enormous data sets in the main memory,” Hough said. “It transfers data to the processor 40 times faster than a hard drive.”

Reducing wait times for the 3,000 employees at EDS of Canada Inc. in St. Catharines, Ont., would certainly increase employee productivity, but there is more to the game than just desktop speed, said Brian Walker, network analyst at EDS of Canada.

If his budget were bottomless, Walker said he would jump at the opportunity to bring 64-bit computing to the EDS plant, but processing power isn’t his main concern – bandwidth is.

“If you can actually pump a gigabit of data out the back of your PC, I’ve got to be able to handle that data without flooding my network and affecting all the other users,” Walker said.

Toronto-based IDC Canada’s research analyst, Eddie Chan said it’s too early to tell if desktop users will jump on board because the trend toward 64-bit computing is in its infancy.

“Apple is very forward-thinking and they are innovators,” he explained. “Right now [the G5] is for the early adopters and for people who require that type of horsepower.”