Microprocessors Matter

CIOs will soon be asked the $64,000 question: Do they need or even want 64-bit computing on their corporate desktops?

Chip maker Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) is betting they do. The company launched Athlon 64, a microprocessor designed for corporate desktop computers. According to AMD, the Athlon 64 chips give CIOs the bilateral luxury of running 32-bit applications faster while self-determining their migration plans to 64-bit computing applications on the desktop. On the face of it, with curtailed IT spending, it’s an enticing proposition; 64 bits on the desktop blows away the 4GB limit on addressable memory, enabling many new applications. And 64 bits offers more powerful encryption, a key security concern of many companies.

As with all microprocessor battles, the chip makers won’t determine winners and losers. Those decisions are made by PC and software vendors. If a chip company makes the most incredible microprocessor in the world and no hardware vendor builds its machines around it, the chips are ascribed to the digital dustbin of computing history.

AMD is making progress on the hardware and software fronts. Several months ago, the company announced a server cousin to Athlon 64 called Opteron on a New York City stage. AMD touted IBM and Microsoft among others as supporters of the platform.

For AMD to succeed with Athlon 64, it must convince either Hewlett-Packard—already a partner of Intel in the development of its 64-bit server platform known as Itanium 2—or Dell—a company that rarely supports new, unproven platforms—to build Athlon 64 machines. AMD does have a relationship forged with HP for 32-bit machines.

I approached Bill Gates for a comment on AMD’s 64-bit initiative. Microsoft’s PR representative responded, stating, "What both AMD and Intel are doing is of great interest to the company." Not quite an endorsement, but not a panning either.

CIOs care about the microprocessor. On CIO.com we asked, "What is the prime consideration when purchasing computers?" With 50 percent of the vote, the microprocessor beat the OS (27 percent), memory (15 percent) and bandwidth (8 percent).

Intel is right. What’s "inside" the box matters. If AMD delivers on its promise to bring 64-bit computing to the desktop, and major hardware and software vendors support it, the battle of the microprocessor companies will take center stage.

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Copyright © 2003 IDG Communications, Inc.

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