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.
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.
Virtualization is another hot technology to keep an eye on next year. eWEEK Labs relies on VMware Workstation, ESX and GSX products, not only to maximize resources and consolidate hardware but also for testing and training purposes.
VMware Workstation 5 is my pick for best new product of 2005, and it will be interesting to see what new features Microsoft, VMware and the open-source Xen virtualization technology will be able to offer next year.
I also expect IT managers to see a big performance upgrade when AMD and Intel begin offering virtualization technologies built into their chips next year. This means IT managers who choose to use hardware running these chips—once they are available—should see huge performance enhancements, as the chips will allow systems to be partitioned and enabled to run multiple operating systems much more efficiently than they can now.
Late last year, it managers were concerned that IBMs sale of its PC business to Lenovo would herald changes to their beloved ThinkPad laptops.
It turns out they had nothing to fear. Lenovo came out swinging with its first tablet PC for the ThinkPad line, the ThinkPad X41 Tablet.
The Chinese computer company followed that up with the Z Series laptops, the first ThinkPads to sport a widescreen format and to be priced starting at less than $1,000.
Lenovos Z Series laptops were also the first ThinkPads to offer a silver cover as an option, rather than just the standard black.
One day, I, along with thousands of other ThinkPad devotees, will get over the shock of having a color choice.
Lenovo wasnt the only company to stir things up this year. At Dell, rumors that the company is considering adding AMD to its lineup flared this fall after it began offering six of AMDs Athlon 64 chips for sale on Dells Web site.
But keep in mind that these are individual parts only—Dell servers and PCs outfitted with AMD processors are not available from Dell.
Although Dell remains an Intel-only system maker, its major competitors—IBM, Sun and Hewlett-Packard—all sell servers with AMD processors. And, for now, Intel trails AMD in performance and time to market.
While that may change by the time 2007 rolls around and Intel begins releasing quad-core chips, itll be interesting to see whether Dell remains devoted to Intel over the course of next year.
Senior Writer Anne Chen can be reached at [email protected].
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