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Intel ‘likely’ to offer 64-bit Pentium

Waiting for the OS and the apps

Intel last night reiterated that it would offer a 64-bit desktop processor. But now it's a question of when the applications and operating system is ready, rather than just a matter of customer demand for more memory.

The latest pronouncement on the '64-bit question' came from Intel's President and COO, Paul Otellini, speaking in a web-cast interview

"You can be fairly confident that when there is software from an application and operating system standpoint that we'll be there," Otellini said when asked about Chipzilla's 64-bit plans.

That broadly follows what company CTO Pat Gelsinger said at last autumn's Intel Developer Forum: Intel will go to 64-bit when applications need the extra memory that 64-bit addressing enables.

Gelsinger said that wouldn't be the case for "several more years" yet. He said he reckons 32-bit addressing's limit of 4GB won't need to be exceeded until 2006/2007.

As we pointed out at the time, that need doesn't preclude Intel from making the move earlier, if it sees there's a business case to be made for doing so. Indeed, Otellini's comment suggests that may be the way the story pans out.

Microsoft is expected to release 64-bit Windows XP this year, much to AMD's annoyance - it was due earlier this month - so that's the OS side sorted. Once that's in place, mainstream applications will surely follow, and we'd expect them to do so before 2006.

Some observers suggest that 'Tejas' - the successor to 'Prescott', the next generation of the Pentium 4, due to appear next month - will lead Intel's assault on the 64-bit desktop market. Tejas is not expected to appear until mid-2005. It has even been claimed that Prescott already has 64-bit extensions to the 32-bit x86 instruction set, but they have been disabled.

The thorny question that remains centres on whether Intel will adopt AMD's AMD64 technology or offer something along the same lines, but of its own devising. Past rumours have had it that Microsoft will only support one 64-bit x86 ISA, and since AMD got there first, Intel will have to just get into line.

Adopting AMD64 would be a bold move that would legitimise the 64-bit x86 world by ending the fear that it would be undermined by two competing standards, but would Intel want to admit that it thinks a rival's technology is the best way forward? We doubt it.

Fortunately, a compromise exists: Intel offers a 64-bit system that's compatible with AMD64 but branded differently, in the same way that AMD's 3DNow! successfully delivers MMX, SSE and SSE 2 compatibility without actually saying it's based on Intel ISA extensions.

However Intel pitches it, for Insight 64 analyst Nathan Brookwood, that's what Chipzilla will do. "[Otellini's is] a very important statement in the sense that it more or less anticipates that there will be a single compatible technique that Intel will use and AMD is using now," Brookwood told Reuters. ®

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