Communications to Drive 64-Bit

Consumers snapping up advanced cell phones and DVD players will fuel next-generation chip sales, experts say.

While the semiconductor industry overall can expect a modest 6 percent compound annual growth rate in the next four years, demand for networking and consumer products will give 64-bit chips a huge boost, In-Stat/MDR says.

The technology research firm's latest report forecast that the cell-based 64-bit embedded processor market will thrive, jumping 83 percent from 2004 to 2008. Much of the boom will come from consumer spending on cellular handsets, PCs and DVD players.

Jerry Worchel, a principal analyst for In-Stat/MDR, said that the communications market, rather than the computer market, is becoming the industry driver of the future. The chips will go into networking gear and cellular bay stations, as well as as next-generation cell phones with 3D displays and real-time video, said Worchel.

"When you start getting into live video, you need that bandwidth," he said. "Otherwise, it would be like the beginning days of dial-up."

The faster, more powerful chips also will provide for more functionality and flexibility on other consumer electronics devices; for example 64-bit chips will let users watch one DVD while burning another.

Worchel said that voice over Internet Protocol, which transforms the voice into packets that can be sent over data networks, and video over IP will also cause demand for the higher-bandwidth networks built on 64-bit chips.

While most of the development of 64-bit chips will take place in the United States and Japan, most of the consumption will be in the Asia-Pacific region, Worchel said.

Microsoft has begun to push 64-bit computing, by extolling its virtues to the public while urging OEMs to begin shipping computers capable of running 32-bit programs on 64-bit addressable chips.

While 64-bit computers are still a couple years away, Worchel said Redmond will be a catalyst. "Microsoft is a big driver of anything they want to drive," he said. "What they want to do is what everybody else has to follow suit and adjust for. So, if they go 64-bit, semiconductor manufacturers will have to do likewise in order to support their software."

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