64-Bit Driver Support Is Still a Mixed Bag

Will hardware vendors have 64-bit device drivers in place to support Microsoft's 64-bit Windows release? The answer is a definite maybe.

Will hardware vendors have 64-bit device drivers in place to support Microsofts 64-bit Windows release? The answer is a definite maybe.

While a significant number of PC components will function under Microsofts new 64-bit Windows operating system, more specialized devices are being put on the back burner.

According to Greg Sullivan, lead product manager for Microsofts Windows team, 16,000 devices will support the Windows XP Professional x64 Edition, scheduled to be released Monday. A number of PC component manufacturers began publishing their drivers earlier this month.

Peripheral manufacturers appear to have emphasized their more mainstream products first; some mice and trackballs, for example, will support the new 64-bit OS out of the box.

Microsoft will also write generic drivers for devices such as flash cards, external hard drives, and USB hubs that will enable them to function without specialized software. Where drivers are necessary, OEMs said, are to allow the manufacturer-specific features that will help distinguish them from their competitors.

If an IHV doesnt have a 64-bit driver prepared, however, its not for lack of trying. Microsoft, AMD and Intel have all pleaded with developers to start crafting 64-bit drivers. At the 2004 Windows Hardware Engineering Conference in Seattle, Microsofts Jim Allchin noted that slow driver support could "slow down" the transition to 64-bit systems, and both AMD and Intel have efforts dedicated toward 64-bit driver development.

In the short term, the muddled driver environment will favor PC OEMs, which at least have had a chance to talk to their suppliers and assemble a PC from parts with 64-bit support. Users accustomed to building their own PCs, however, will have to check each component and ensure it will be supported by the new operating system.

Not surprisingly, all of Microsofts mice and keyboards will be supported with the new 64-bit drivers, Sullivan said. Exceptions may be more common in "specialty products" and devices like joysticks, he said. Likewise, the "majority" of Creative Technologys keyboards and mice also have 64-bit driver support, according to spokeswoman Amy Stojsavljevic, along with the companys MuVo line of flash players and the Zen Portable Media Center.

Rival Logitech, however, has yet to post any Windows x64 drivers to its web site, including support for its popular mice and trackballs. Company representatives did not respond to requests for comment.

While graphics makers polled last summer had only prepared beta drivers, both ATI Technologies and Nvidia released drivers for their Catalyst and ForceWare driver packages in March and April, respectively.

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