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The Magic Numbers For Servers Are 32 And 64

With server sales up 25% this year, Dell, Hewlett-Packard, and IBM this week will introduce the first servers to use the 32/64-bit Nocona version of Intel's Xeon processor, which Intel introduced to compete with a similar product from Advanced Micro Devices Inc. And Sun Microsystems this week will expand its server line based on AMD's 32/64-bit Opteron chip, adding a four-way system and promising an eight-way system next year.

Market Leaders pie chart"Intel has now validated the whole concept" of 32/64-bit chips based on the X86 architecture, says John Enck, an analyst with research firm Gartner. "From a software-developer perspective, if you're writing code, it's the same for Opteron or Nocona."

For most companies, the 32/64-bit approach is an interim step toward full-blown 64-bit computing. Later this year, Intel will add a new 64-bit Itanium 2 processor that expands cache size from 6 Mbytes to 9 Mbytes. In 2005, the next-generation Itanium will offer multiple threads and a dual core. By 2007, systems based on Xeon and Itanium will reach price parity and be offered on a common platform, which would let system makers create a single server that could use either processor engine, Intel says.

Server sales are hot, growing more than 20% last year compared with 2002, according to Gartner, and rising 25% in the second quarter compared with a year earlier.