Athlon 64 Needs A Killer App

The low-end version of Advanced Micro Devices Athlon 64 -- the AMD Athlon 64 3000+ -- is here, but where is the software that runs on the 64-bit machine?

December 19, 2003

3 Min Read
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In introducing a low-end version of its Athlon 64 -- the AMD Athlon 64 3000+ -- Advanced Micro Devices is encouraging the adoption of the powerful microprocessor by PC manufacturers, but this begs the eternal question about all processors: where is the software that runs on the 64-bit machine?

Actually, it's out there, but you can't get your hands on it. That is, you can't get the new Windows operating system being developed for the machine by Microsoft unless you are a software developer or have some other reason to qualify as a Beta software user and tester. One expert who has one is Nathan Brookwood, principal analyst at Insight 64, who believes software developers are writing new applications software for the machine.

Maybe a killer app?

"Not that I know of," says Brookwood. "The Beta software is available now. I'm sure software developers are writing applications to it and debugging it. It's not clear to me that a 64-bit killer application has emerged." A so-called "killer application" -- something that would rapidly thrust acceptance of the machine on a wide scale -- has not been sighted, but the thing about killer apps is that they tend to sneak up on computer users until one day they are just there.

Brookwood notes that some users will likely get high satisfaction from the 64-bit Athlon line almost immediately -- gamers, movie editors, and some sophisticated engineering and scientific users. But those are still relatively limited markets.Brookwood expects AMD's new inexpensive processor -- it sells for $218 in batches of 1,000 -- to appear relatively quickly in inexpensive desktop PCs, driving their price down by as much as $250. And, as classic pricing momentum curves set in, he expects to see barebones consumer configurations with price tags as low as $700 late in 2004. The 3000+ was introduced this week.

Brookwood says different PC manufacturers utilize different qualification schedules with some suppliers taking just a few days to qualify new processors while others take weeks for qualification programs. Because the motherboard and the chassis for the new 3000+ is likely to be identical to the older more powerful Athlon 64 FX-51 and Athlon 64 3200+, the time-to-market for the Athlon 64 3000+ should be telescoped. The new device has a 2GHz processor speed and has 512KB secondary cache -- one-half the cache of the 3200+. The 3200+ sells for $417 in 1,000 units, the FX-51 for $733 in 1,000 units.

Until the new OS and application software appears, users of all Athlon 64 processors will have to be content with x86 32-bit software, which runs in native mode on the Athlon 64 processors.

The Microsoft operating system is due to be released later in 2004; Brookwood noted that it was held up somewhat because of the rising industry-wide outcry over security; Microsoft is taking additional time to include improved built-in security features in the software.

Athlon 64-bit machines have begun to filter out onto the consumer market in recent weeks. Off brands like Systemax and top-tier manufacturers like Hewlett-Packard have begun selling the machines in a small way. Prices of the desktop versions seem to be coming in between $1,200 and $1,800 and up depending on the configurations and the peripherals included.

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