AMD beats Intel on 64-bit chip for PCs

By : |September 23, 2003 0

By Elinor Mills Abreu

SAN FRANCISCO: AMD Inc. has said it will launch its new Athlon 64 processor today, a move analyst say will give the chipmaker a head start against its larger rival, Intel Corp., in the race to bring cutting-edge data processing to personal computers.

The new chip, which will be marketed first to hard-core gamers and scientists and engineers, is seen over the longer term as vital to the future of AMD, which has posted losses for eight straight quarters and has built its reputation as a lower-cost alternative to Intel.

“They’re relying on it to generate additional revenue and eventually drive them to profitability,” said Kevin Krewell, a senior analyst at the Microprocessor Report.

Currently, most desktop computers have processors and applications written to crunch 32 bits of data at a time, while servers — including those based on Intel’s Itanium and AMD’s Opteron processors — handle 64 bits at once.

That faster data handling is particularly helpful when doing more computing-intensive tasks, like using databases, rendering digital animation or performing scientific simulations.

The Athlon 64 not only runs existing 32-bit applications extremely well, according to analysts, but it will be able to run 64-bit PC applications when those become available.

“The pervasive adoption of 64-bit computers is not a question of if, but when,” AMD Chief Executive Hector Ruiz said at the TECHXNY conference in New York last week.

Intel, meanwhile, has not stated its plans for offering a 64-bit PC processor and is downplaying the need for the technology.

“The production operating systems are not there yet” for 64-bit PCs, Intel President Paul Otellini said last week in an interview at the Intel Developer Forum. “The mainstream applications won’t exist until next year.”

Standard consumer PCs will not be configured with enough memory for 64-bit computing for a few more years, said Nathan Brookwood, principal analyst at research firm and consultancy, Insight 64. However, engineers and scientists who are pushing the limits of the technology now will be early adopters, he said.


AMD said another market needs the power boost now — gamers. Chips offering 64-bit capability will greatly increase the realism for PC games, AMD said.

“When you go into a movie theater, the experience is radically different from a PC,” said Rich Heye, general manager and vice president of AMD’s microprocessor business unit. “If you want to get that experience on your PC, you are just going to have to go to a 64-bit architecture.”

With the launch, “AMD is on top of the mountain and we’re dropping a snowball down the hill,” he added.

In a pre-emptive strike, Intel said last week it has developed a new processor with extra memory, called Pentium 4 Extreme Edition, that is targeted at gamers and will be available in a month or two.

But AMD still has the upper-hand since Microsoft has said it will deliver a version of Windows to run on AMD’s 64-bit processor. Intel will either have to adopt AMD’s architecture or develop their own and convince Microsoft to enable Windows to work on its 64-bit PC chip as well, analysts said.

“The key thing here is AMD has staked a claim for architecture for 64-bit desktops ahead of Intel and it will put pressure on Intel when the company plans to move to 64-bit” on PCs, Krewell said.

(Additional reporting by Franklin Paul in New York)

© Reuters

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