HP, Microsoft, IBM Back Intels 64-Bit Move

By Jeffrey Burt  |  Posted 2004-02-17

HP, Microsoft, IBM Back Intels 64-Bit Move

Hewlett-Packard Co., which co-developed the 64-Itanium platform with Intel Corp., joined other OEMs in supporting the chip makers move to add 64-bit extensions to its 32-bit Xeon processor line.

Intel CEO Craig Barrett, in his keynote speech Tuesday at the Intel Developers Forum in San Francisco, announced that the company will begin offering the extensions first in the upcoming Nocona processor in the second quarter. The technology later will appear in the Xeon MP "Potomac" chip and single-processor "Prescott" chip for workstations next year.

The extensions will enable the Xeon processors to do what the Itanium chips could not—run 32-bit applications as well as 64-bit software. The move is seen as an answer to Advanced Micro Devices Inc.s Opteron processors, which are 64-bit x86 chips and had been gaining traction in the market. Itanium is a different architecture than the x86 processors, and though it offered 32-bit computing capabilities via emulation software, the performance of those applications was lacking.

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Some industry observers say the 64-bit-enabled Xeons pose a threat to the future of Itanium, but Intel officials in Santa Clara, Calif., say they will complement each other.

HP, of Palo Alto, Calif., is standardizing its line of high-end systems on Itanium. However, officials attending IDF announced that they will offer servers and workstations powered by the new 64-bit-enabled Xeon chips later this year. At the same time, the company supports Intels Itanium roadmap, and is announcing at the show the booting of the HP NonStop operating system on Itanium 2 processors.


HP is rumored also to be looking at releasing Opteron-based systems later this month. HP spokesman Tim Willeford, speaking from the IDF show, said the company "is continuing to assess options on other technology." He declined to comment further.

Neil Hand, director of worldwide product marketing for Dell Inc., said the Round Rock, Texas, company will incorporate the new chips throughout its server and workstation lines over the year. The company has been engineering the systems to prepare for 64-bit extensions, Hand said during an interview from IDF.

Hand said he expects to see "rapid interest in the adoption [of the 64-bit-enabled systems] in the technical computing areas." Users in that space are running up against the memory limitations of 32-bit computing, but want the price/performance capabilities of Intels Xeon platform. "Were going to drive this capability aggressively into our platform."

As far as Opteron is concerned, Hand said Dell has yet to see the broad adoption of the technology that would cause the company to take a look at the chip.


Microsoft Corp. also announced Tuesday that it would support Intels 64-bit extensions. The Redmond, Wash., software maker said that its Windows Server 2003 and Windows XP operating systems for servers and workstations running 64-bit extensions will support Intel s new processors. Microsoft officials at IDF announced that they had released its latest Windows OS to 5,000 members of its technical beta community. General availability of the software is scheduled for the second half of the year.

"Windows for 64-bit extended systems unlocks powerful new 64-bit processing capabilities while preserving the value of customers 32-bit application investments," Jim Allchin, group vice president of the Platforms Group for Microsoft, said in a prepared statement.

Mark Hudson, vice president of marketing for HPs Enterprise Storage and Servers group, said the 64-bit extensions in Xeon will fill a gap between the chips 32-bit capabilities and Itanium. Users will be able to take advantage of greater memory capabilities for their 32-bit applications with the extensions and also start laying out an easier migration path to 64-bit computing. HP will outfit its line of ProLiant systems with the new chips as they become available.

"It allows for those customers [who want to protect their current software investments] to take advantage of their existing 32-bit applications, but run them even faster," said Hudson, speaking from IDF.

Regarding the expectations of Opteron-based HP systems, Hudson declined to answer directly, but said that any server decisions will be based on the companys stated standardization around x86 and Itanium. However, customer demand will dictate whether that x86 commitment is only Intel or also will include AMD.

"We will not be religious about any one server technology ... as long as it meets the requirements of our hardware standards," Hudson said.

Jeff Benck, vice president of IBMs eServer BladeCenter Systems Group, said Intels decision to adopt 64-bit extensions will entice many ISVs who may have been holding back on developing software for such systems, and bring extended servers away from being simply niche machines.

"If an ISV was on the fence and unsure about the position Intel was going to take, they might [now] say, Hey, it might make sense [to create software for 64-bit extensions]," Benck said.

Like other OEMs, IBM, of Armonk, N.Y., will support the chips starting with Nocona in its Intel-based xSeries servers, IntelliStation workstation and BladeCenter blade servers, Benck said. He expects consumers to embrace the technology. It was customer demand for extended systems that led IBM to release the e325 server, based on Opteron. IBM also is expected to roll out an Opteron-based workstation this year.

"Its very compelling to customers because of the investment protection it provides them, particularly as they move from 32-bit applications to 64-bit," he said.

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