64-Bit Power Struggle Heats Up

News Analysis: In 2005, vendors competed to provide ever-increasing processor power, with 64-bit chips and dual-core technology. Now AMD and Intel are shaping their multicore plans for 2006 and beyond.

In the world of hardware, 2005 proved to be the year vendors pushed processor power to new heights as competition in the multicore processor space came to a head.

Advanced Micro Devices Inc. gained a 64-bit head start on Intel last year when it unveiled 64-bit extensions that allow x86 chips to accommodate more than 4GB of memory.

Sixty-four-bit extensions arrived on Intels rival Xeon processors only in March of this year.

AMD pressed its advantage over rival Intel later in the spring by being the first to release dual-core technology for AMD Opteron server chips.

Intel, for its part, released dual-core desktop processors in the summer but did not release dual-core chips for servers until October.

This doesnt mean AMD is free to rest on its laurels. Intel this month announced plans to switch from a 90-nanometer process to a 45-nanometer process, a move that will allow the chip maker to release an eight-core Xeon—code-named Hapertown—in 2008. AMDs road map shows the company expects to release a quad-core chip in 2007.

/zimages/6/28571.gifClick here to read more about AMD and Intels race to boost their chips number of cores.

Some IT managers, however, already saw an eight-core chip this year: Sun Microsystems UltraSPARC T1 chip, formerly code-named Niagara.

Released this month, the processor boasts eight cores per chip, running four instruction threads each.

Niagara wasnt the only new chip Sun released this year in its attempt to engineer a huge comeback in the world of hardware. The company—which from September to December shepherded three major launches in all—started things off by releasing Opteron-based servers designed by Andy Bechtolsheim.

The release of Opteron-based servers and the UltraSPARC T1 doesnt mean Sun has given up on the original SPARC technology, however.

With the release of the UltraSPARC IV+ in November, Sun was able to realize twice the performance over the UltraSPARC IV chip released last year, without a price increase.

Its obvious that vendor strategies now center on multicore processors, but it remains to be seen whether software licensing will deter IT managers from deploying enterprise-class applications on the technology.

For organizations that use software such as Oracle Corp.s databases, the licensing schemes for such applications—requiring a license for each core—put organizations that rely on multicore technology at a disadvantage.

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