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The New 64-Bit Landscape

We have seen the first signs of weakness in Intel's hegemony on processors. The 64-bit computing walls begin to crumble during the past year. Back then, Intel made a mistake when it came out with its new 64-bit Itanium chips that used different instruction sets from the prior x86 line. Ever since, the competition has grown in the space, and now, system builders have, for the first time in a long while, real choices when it comes to what lies at the heart of their highest-powered machines:

  • AMD's Opteron. This preserves the original x86 instruction set and adds their own extensions in terms of clustering and multi-processor performance enhancements. Sun and HP have begun taking advantage of these extensions in their server lines, and expect more news on this
    front as these two vendors build new machines based on Opterons.
  • IBM's PowerPC. This continues to just chug along without too much fanfare. I am impressed with the breadth and depth of the PowerPC line. It has a wide range of chips that can handle everything from the highest-density supercomputers to low-end embedded processors.
  • And Intel itself. Earlier this month, they announced a new line of 64-bit processors that basically turns back the clock and re-embraces its older instruction set, hedging its 64-bit bets both ways.

    Part of Intel's problem is that machines are cheap these days, and that the cost differential for Itanium is pretty steep: $2,000 can buy you a lot of server horsepower, or a terrific desktop with better than average workstation features, for non-Intel 64-bit CPUs. The Itaniums can cost five or more times as much.

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