Intel Comes Through With Long-Anticipated Xeon Update For Improved 64-Bit Performance


Intel's latest entry into the 64-bit microprocessor space isn't a chip itself, but a software instruction set that allows 64-bit applications to perform better on the company's 32-bit Xeon chips for workstations.

The Santa Clara, Calif.-based chip maker released the long-awaited update to its Xeon platform, formerly code-named Nocona, on June 28. The platform is accompanied by Intel's Extended Memory 64 technology, which allows software developers to write code that runs on both 64-bit processors and 32-bit chips such as Xeon.

The technology is widely viewed as an attempt by Intel to put itself on par with rival Advanced Micro Devices, whose Opteron processor, released last year, is natively compatible with both 32-bit and 64-bit software.
Some solution providers and analysts have acknowledged that while AMD has beaten Intel to the punch on backward-compatible 64-bit solutions, it has not been as quick to the marketplace because 64-bit, Windows-based applications are not yet available to drive it.

"From what I've heard on the street, there's really no demand for it at this time," said Steven Garcia, vice president of sales at Omnipro Systems, a Sacramento, Calif.-based system builder and solution provider. "Right now, it's just a [spitting] contest between Intel and AMD."

Garcia said that while his company has built systems with AMD processors in the past, it hasn't of late because the Sunnyvale, Calif.-based chip maker is relying on third-party manufacturers of chipsets and boards whereas Intel makes its own.

"There's no set consistency with any one given platform [including AMD's 64-bit chips]," Garcia said. "With Intel, they come up with what they deem as a corporate-stable platform."

For its part, though, AMD executives quietly put out the spin that Intel was, in fact, behind it in reaching the 64-bit performance space. And a key AMD ally, Sun Microsystems, which has agreed to use Opteron processors in some of its servers and workstations, issued a statement through a spokesman that "Intel is playing catch-up with AMD."

In addition, John Fowler, executive vice president of Sun's Network Systems Group, said Nocona is an "endorsement of AMD compatibility" and "further diminishes" Intel architecture in the high end.

Intel has priced its new 3.6GHz Xeon processor, with the instruction set technology, at $851 in 1,000-unit groups. Intel has taken great pains to ensure that despite the new product introductions, its overall pricing remains stable. Even though Intel added the Nocona processor to its Xeon lineup, pricing on all of its other existing chips remained unchanged.

Many in the market are attributing Intel's move to the vendor trying to seek every advantage it can get. Last week, at least one Wall Street brokerage cut back its expectations for the entire microprocessor segment, saying its performance in 2005 could be off significantly from what had previously been expected. With new products and markets"including its Nocona and the growing digital home space"Intel is hoping it can buck the concerns.