Page Four

By Peter Coffee  |  Posted 2003-04-22 Print this article Print

One must wonder, then: If these benefits are so apparent, why are 32-bit systems still purchased so widely? Sixty-four-bit computing is not a 21st-century innovation; enterprise hardware builders such as IBM, Sun and Hewlett-Packard already offer respected families of 64-bit systems that are earning their keep in many applications. Current 64-bit systems, however, are too expensive for general adoption. The question that therefore tests the nerve of IT hardware makers is this: How many high-end processor architectures can the industry continue to develop and build? Moores Law, the trend that doubles the number of devices on a chip every 18 months, is often cited as the force that transforms silicon into gold; chip builders also converse in much less cheerful terms about Moores Second Law, which characterizes the staggering growth in the cost of building each new generation of fabrication plants as that progress raises the stakes. Despite the unquestioned technical merits of designs like the late, lamented Alpha, only a handful of processor families can survive.
What AMD and Intel now need to see is the hole card of the enterprise IT buyer. When that card is revealed, will it show readiness to acquire and assimilate a whole new base of operating systems, enterprise middleware and applications to take advantage of the Itanium architectures completely new instruction set? Or will it reveal the combination of technical caution and commercial risk acceptance that could bring buyers to AMDs door, seeking a 64-bit superset of the well-established x86?
Oddsmakers should consider the growing importance of overseas markets, where desktop Athlon 64 machines (most likely running Linux) may well become the entry-level servers of choice—as 386-based machines did in the late 1980s. Now, as then, the buyers will get to decide—just as they did the last time that the dealers in Moores Casino called out, "Double the bets!" Or was that "bits"? Technology Editor Peter Coffee can be reached at Latest AMD News:
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Peter Coffee is Director of Platform Research at, where he serves as a liaison with the developer community to define the opportunity and clarify developersÔÇÖ technical requirements on the companyÔÇÖs evolving Apex Platform. Peter previously spent 18 years with eWEEK (formerly PC Week), the national news magazine of enterprise technology practice, where he reviewed software development tools and methods and wrote regular columns on emerging technologies and professional community issues.Before he began writing full-time in 1989, Peter spent eleven years in technical and management positions at Exxon and The Aerospace Corporation, including management of the latter companyÔÇÖs first desktop computing planning team and applied research in applications of artificial intelligence techniques. He holds an engineering degree from MIT and an MBA from Pepperdine University, he has held teaching appointments in computer science, business analytics and information systems management at Pepperdine, UCLA, and Chapman College.

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