Intel moves toward 64-bit

Intel Corp. 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 vendors) to at least consider whether they should 64-bit-enable their applications,” said Gordon Haff, an analyst at Illuminata Inc., in Nashua, N.H. 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 Inc. in Union City, Calif. “It has a good deal of flexibility, and I think that flexibility is something that will appeal with a lot of businesses.”

Advanced Micro Devices Inc. began delivering its 64-bit, x86 Opteron systems last year, and major enterprise vendors are now shipping Opteron chips.

“What Intel is doing is refreshing their whole product line, so no product will have merely the 32-bit (chip),” said Rich Partridge, an analyst at D.H. Brown Associates Inc., a market research firm in Port Chester, N.Y. “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 on Monday announced its workstation 64-bit extensions technology, even as Hewlett-Packard Co. and Dell Inc. both announced workstations built on the new Intel chip. But Dell, unlike HP, Sun and IBM Corp., isn’t delivering Opteron-based hardware, and a company spokesperson Tuesday said it has no plans to do so in the near future. Dell does continue to “look at” AMD’s technology, the spokesperson noted.

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 Microsystems Inc., which has plans to eventually develop an eight-way Opteron system, intends to evaluate the Intel chip but hasn’t 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 its price is less than that of Unix systems.

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

But by the time the semiannual list was updated last week, Opteron had nearly 30 spots at university, government and military facilities, including the No. 10 position, the Shanghai Supercomputer Center.

Private-sector supercomputer users on the list include Volkswagen AG and unidentified financial service and automotive users. Researchers at the University of Mannheim in Germany, the National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, and the University of Tennessee compiled the list.

Intel, however, dominates the compilation, with 286 spots.

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