Despite the hubbub surrounding 64-bit computing in the market, Intel Corp. will assert that the world still operates on 32-bit cores with the Monday launch of its code-name "Prescott" processor. OEMs on Thursday reported that Intel the next-generation Pentium architecture will be pitched as a 32-bit chip and not a bridge to 64-bit computing.
Intels next-generation processor will eventually replace the "Northwood" Pentium 4 found in todays PCs. The Prescott family, still branded as a Pentium 4, is primarily being viewed by Intel as just another step forward along the Pentium 4 roadmap, albeit with a larger 1MB cache that will improve the performance of many applications.
More intriguing, however, were the online reports circulating in the industry that the 32-bit chip will hide additional 64-bit capabilities. Insiders speculated that Intel would develop a 64-bit core to compete with Advanced Micro Devices Inc.s Opteron and Athlon 64 processors, which use an X86-64 instruction set that AMD executives have described as an "extension" of 32-bit code.
In an analyst briefing broadcast on Wednesday, Intel president Paul Otellini was asked about the likelihood of Intel designing 64-bit chips for the desktop. Otellinis answer seemed to indicate such a development would be some time in the future.
"You can be fairly confident that when there is software from an application and operating system standpoint that well be there," Otellini said.
Intel will launch Prescott on Monday together with a new 3.4GHz Pentium 4 Extreme Edition and a corresponding 3.4GHz Pentium 4. Larger distributors are now beginning to pass along their stock of the 3.2GHz, 3GHz and 2.8GHz Prescott chips to smaller dealers, who will also begin taking orders on Monday.
According to sources, Intel may also launch a slower Pentium 4 on the same day, sources said. Sources said systems running 3.4GHz Prescotts should enter the market later in the quarter.
Analysts polled last week were divided on whether the Prescott architecture will contain some form of 64-bit capability. Many suspected that the Prescott was designed with some of 64-bit functionality that wont be turned on, similar to the way in which some of the first Pentium 4 processors were equipped with the hyperthreading technology that Intel later enabled in future revisions.
Analysts said they expected a demonstration of some 64-bit compatibility technology at the Intel Developer Forum in San Francisco next month.
"Prescott does have a lot of technology including hyperthreading. [Theres] a lot of infrastructure that could be enabled at a later time, although were not talking about all the software it could take advantage of," said George Alfs, an Intel spokesman on desktop processors.
Hiding the chips functionality in the 64-bit processor field. The first 64-bit desktop chip for mainstream PCs was AMDs Athlon 64, which shipped last year. Although AMD executives touted the Athlon 64s 64-bit capabilities at its launch, recently officials have painted the chip as one of the fastest 32-bit processors on the planet, somewhat downplaying its 64-bit capabilities.
"The noise around a 64-bit Prescott has died way down," said Dean McCarron, an analyst with Mercury Research Inc. of Cave Creek, Ariz. "Theres a number of potential explanations why Intel isnt talking about it; its not up to snuff or something, or its just not there. But if the capability was present wed have heard of a lot more rumors: BIOS support, that sort of thing," he said.
Code issues aside, analysts and industry sources have begun to paint Prescott as an iterative step ahead along Intels roadmap, perhaps best summed up by the current "Pentium 4" or "Xeon" brand name the chip will carry. Above all, Prescotts most notable attributes an increase in cache from 512KB to a 1MB, several new multimedia instructions and a higher clock speed.
"We see it as a speed bump," said a source at one PC OEM.