Intel is summing up its focus for 2005 in a single phrase: 64-bit.
The chipmaker said its flagship Pentium 4 will ship with 64-bit capabilities for the first time later this month. The company said it is also close to shipping its Xeon multiprocessor, code-named Potomac, with 8 MB L3 cache and its Twin Castle chipset.
The announcement during a Webcast Tuesday came as Intel laid out its Pentium 4 and Xeon chip roadmap for the year. The company, which recently reorganized its desktop and server divisions under a new Digital Enterprise Group, has been shifting its production to a 64-bit architecture for the last year and a half.
The group's vice president, Phil Brace, said Intel has momentum going into 2005 and expects close to 80 percent of its products will ship with 64-bit capabilities courtesy of Intel's EM64T extensions. The chips, which fall under the 6xx series sequence will also support other enhancements like a larger L2 cache, HyperThreading technology and Intel's 915 chipsets.
Brace said 2005 is the year of 64-bit server computing. "Our server platform ramp up is already going quite well. We shipped our first million of 64-bit Xeon processors last year, and we expect our second million to ship at the end of the month. It's really a testament to end customer and OEM acceptance of the new platform capabilities."
Intel has been working hard to refresh its server and desktop processors. Earlier in the week, the company revealed its dual-core desktop silicon production plans to deliver two separate dual-core products for its Extreme Edition and Pentium processor-class families during the second quarter of 2005.
Brace and Rob Crooke, director of marketing for Intel's Digital Enterprise Group, said half of Intel's 64-bit customers are interested in supporting their 32-bit applications, while the other half look forward to a day when more 64-bit software becomes available.
All eyes are on Microsoft in that regard. The software vendor has been singling out the development of 64-bit computer chips ever since it decided to develop its Windows Server and SQL Server platforms for mainframe-like systems. Microsoft has yet to release a 64-bit version of its XP desktop operating system but has spent countless resources on both Intel and AMD to make sure the x86 processors are maximized for Windows environments.
Gartner vice president and senior analyst Martin Reynolds said 64-bit has always been more hype than substance, given that Intel's Vanderpool virtualization and dual-core technology will ship well ahead of AMD.
"The 64-bit card is of no value in terms of increasing unit price, so Intel is simply propagating it across the product lines to advance 64-bit applications," Reynolds told internetnews.com. "It is quite possible that such a move could allow Microsoft to move to 64-bit-only releases in 2007 or 2008, encouraging a faster upgrade cycle for platform hardware. The Opteron is doing well, but it is not about 64-bit. It is about performance, and price-performance. The Opteron's system bandwidth gives it material advantages in small 4-way servers."
Already, Intel has taken a few mea culpas for not acting quickly enough on 64-bit chips after AMD grabbed bragging rights for doing just the opposite: bringing Opteron and 64-bit computing to the x86 industry.
"I don't think that Intel would have brought EM64T out quite as early and aggressively as it did had AMD and Opteron not been prodding it along," Jonathan Eunice, principal analyst with IT consultancy Illuminata, told internetnews.com. "It might have preferred to hang back and give Itanium more chance to be 'the 64-bit processor from Intel' for a few more quarters before bringing out an x86 that also does 64-bit. But x86 servers running Windows and Linux have been pushing up against the high end of 32-bit memory boundaries for some time, and often doing backflips to accommodate more RAM than 32-bits allows. So even for Intel, it was a matter of when, not if, 64-bits would come to x86."
This article was originally published on internetnews.com.