Why 64-Bit Now?
So if Athlon 64s perform so well at 32-bit tasks, why is AMD pushing the 64-bit angle at all? Because company executives believe the 64-bit desktop age is dawning now.
Once video editors watch a 64-bit PC encode video directly to a DVD on the fly, they'll want one, says Rich Heye, vice president of AMD's microprocessor unit. And once gamers see the cinematic quality that 64-bit chips help make possible, they'll want one. Though mass-market adoption will take a few years, "the average lifetime of a PC is three to four years, and I think a lot of people will be running 64 bits before that's up," Heye says.
Executives at Intel disagree, seeing 64-bit computing as largely a server technology in the short term. "With just 5 percent of servers using 64-bit addressability, there is little need today [for 64 bits] on the desktop," says George Alfs, Intel spokesperson, adding that without software and other tools to make it work at its best, 64 bits doesn't mean much.
MDR's Krewell sees Intel's resistance to 64 bits for the desktop as a move to protect its sizeable investment in its 64-bit Itanium CPU, designed for servers and workstations.
Should AMD's 64-bit initiative take off, Krewell says he's convinced Intel has a backup plan. "There is no technical reason they cannot implement a 64-bit extension in their desktop chips," he says.
Intel's Alfs says the company will continue to focus on "bringing benefits that PC users can use now." To that end, at press time the company announced a new chip, the 3.2-GHz P4 with Hyperthreading Technology, Extreme Edition, aimed at gamers who want top performance. This 32-bit chip boasts 2MB of L3 cache and should be shipping shortly after you read this. (The chip was unavailable in time for testing for this story. See our separate news article for performance results.) Intel's next-generation chip, code-named Prescott, will also debut before year's end. Prescott's boosts include a larger L2 cache, new instructions, and improved hyperthreading technology.
Meanwhile, with Athlon 64, AMD has reignited the chip wars. That's always good news for users, says MDR's Krewell.
Power users are well served by Athlon 64 FX PCs, which are currently atop the performance heap--with prices to match. If you don't need to squeeze every last bit of power from your PC, a unit with the Athlon 64 3200+ or Intel's 3.2-GHz P4 may be your best bet--though systems with the former are likely to save you some money over P4 PCs.