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AMD, Microsoft Steal March on Intel

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Stealing a march on arch-rival Intel , AMD Wednesday won the endorsement of Microsoft
for its 64-bit chips on the desktop.

Microsoft said Wednesday that it is developing native 64-bit versions of
its Windows XP and Windows Server 2003 operating systems designed to
support AMD’s forthcoming Opteron and Athlon 64 processors. Microsoft is
looking to Opteron to power servers and workstations, and Athlon 64 for
desktops and notebooks. It expects to have desktop and server beta releases
ready by mid-2003.

The move may come as a blow to Intel, which has long argued that 64-bit
still belongs to the big tin and that it won’t make an x86-64 processor.
Intel officials, from CEO Paul Otellini and down, have argued that most
desktops won’t need more than 4GB of memory — the current limit for 32-bit
processors — until the end of the decade. Because of that, the company has
said it won’t need to develop a 64-bit desktop processor until 2008 or
2009. Instead, it plans to continue pushing its high value, high margin
64-bit Itanium processors for the big tin.

But the decision by Microsoft — Intel’s strongest business partner — to
support AMD’s new chips may put Intel into the unfamiliar position of
following the leader. Microsoft wants UNIX’s market in the enterprise and
is counting on the cheaper x86 architecture to give it the edge it needs.

“We are pleased to help usher in a new era of business value by extending
our ongoing investment in 64-bit computing to the AMD platform,” said Brian
Valentine, senior vice president of Microsoft’s Windows Division.
“Microsoft’s 64-bit Windows operating systems represent an inflection point
leading to higher performance and greater efficiency for businesses and

AMD and Microsoft argue that 64-bit Windows XP on Athlon 64 (as well as
64-bit Windows Server 2003 on Opteron), will give customers “critical
architectural flexibility” by allowing them to upgrade to 64-bit
applications as they become available, while still supporting current
32-bit applications.

“Native 64-bit Microsoft Windows on AMD provides customers a
high-performance 32-bit application platform together with an easy
migration path to the power of 64-bit computing,” said Dirk Meyer, senior
vice president of AMD’s Computation Products Group.

But Gartner Dataquest vice president Martin Reynolds, who follows microprocessors, told that he believes Windows 64-bit will remain a niche product for several years, and doesn’t see Wednesday’s announcement as turning the screw on Intel just yet.

“This isn’t mainstream,” Reynolds said. “This isn’t for the typical user and won’t be for some years. The catch is that some of the stuff has to be left behind to move to 64-bit. On the other hand, users who need large memory — that’s some server applications and some workstation applications — could find benefits from 64-bit Windows.”

Reynolds explained that 64-bit versions of Windows won’t be able to handle 16-bit applications, which, while nowhere near as common as they used to be, still hang around as legacy applications in many organizations.

Performance may also be an issue, Reynolds said. “There’s a good chance that Opteron on Windows 32 will outperform Opteron on Windows 64,” he said, adding that, at least for the time being, he expects Opteron on 32-bit systems will be far more successful than Opteron on 64-bit systems.

“AMD’s success going forward is going to be based on the price performance they can show on mainstream platforms,” he said.

However, he also noted that Dataquest believes 64-bit systems will start becoming necessary around 2005, as more applications demand memory systems larger than 32-bit systems can handle. He also projected that 64-bit systems will become mainstream by 2007.

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