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Intel, AMD and the Enterprise Chip War

It almost seems like Intel was asleep at the wheel, however, when AMD created its Opteron server and Athlon-64 workstation lines. AMD beat Intel to market and made the first x86 chips to include enterprise-oriented accommodations for 64-bit computing. It also vastly improved performance by increasing the number of registers in the processor. Unlike the Itanium's notoriously slow 32-bit performance, the Opteron and Athlon-64 work swimmingly in 32-bit mode, making ports to 64-bit applications necessary only in special situations, as when memory requirements exceed the 32-bit limit. On June 28, Intel grudgingly released the latest version of its Xeon processor, the Nocona, with little fanfare. This processor, also a 64-bit x86, will compete directly with the Athlon-64 line, and an upcoming version will compete with the Opteron.

Indeed, AMD is forcing Intel to pit its own Xeon architecture against the Itanium. Instead of upgrading your 32-bit Xeon-based server to the Itanium or to a RISC-based system, for example, you can simply switch to the next level of x86.

But Intel still seems to be betting on the Itanium architecture. Having made such a huge investment, now is not the time to switch tactics. From the company's point of view, an upgrade of a Xeon processor doesn't necessarily mean a switch to enterprise computing. If you're looking for a processor with extra security, reliability and scalability features built in, you'll want to go with the Itanium.

Itanium still faces some high hurdles. Its first version included a poorly performing x86 32-bit emulation mode. With the second version, Intel undertook a major redesign, claiming to increase 32-bit performance significantly, but not to the point of the chipmaker's native 32-bit processors.

Also, the Itanium isn't based on the "open" architecture that the x86 is--if you buy an Itanium processor, it's strictly Intel--there are no competitors that manufacture a similar chip.

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