The long-awaited era of 64-bit computing finally may be here. Intel last week introduced a line of 64-bit Xeon processors for the multiprocessor-server market that sets a new level of computing performance and is expected to launch a wave of software development to take advantage of the greater speed the processors provide.
The Xeon MP processors complete Intel's conversion of its server-processor portfolio to 64-bit capabilities, with the Itanium processor at the high end. Advanced Micro Devices Inc.'s 64-bit Opteron processors have been available for two years. Intel's Xeon MP and AMD's Opteron provide the foundation for a transition from the x86 standard to a new 64-bit computing market. Intel and the major computer makers are even changing their nomenclature, using "x64" to describe 64-bit chips that run the x86 instruction set. Intel's Itanium chip handles 64 bits at a time but doesn't run x86 instructions natively.
Perhaps even more important than the chip announcement was confirmation from Microsoft last week that its long-awaited Windows Server 2003 64-bit Edition is near completion and that a formal introduction can be expected as soon as next month.
"That's the gun that starts the race," says Nathan Brookwood, an analyst with Insight64. Once there's a 64-bit version of Windows Server, "then we'll also start to see all of the utilities and infrastructure applications being moved over to 64 bits."
That's a change eagerly anticipated by Wayne Myers, IT director and network administrator for law firm Hooper, Lundy & Bookman Inc. "Now that Microsoft is on board, we're just waiting for the other software applications to come around," he says. "As all the legal software is ported to 64-bit operation, it will speed up pretty much everything we do across the network." The California firm, which specializes in health-care law, runs Windows on ProLiant servers from Hewlett-Packard for a variety of applications and Microsoft's SQL Server.