Intel: Time Is Right For 64-Bit Desktop Processor

The Santa Clara, Calif.-based chip maker will begin rolling out the Pentium 4 600 series—with a 64-bit instruction set—in its higher-end desktop offerings, and then across the rest of its Pentium 4 lineup through the year.

The 64-bit instruction set, which Intel calls EM64T, will ship later this month with existing high-end single-core Pentium 4 processors, said Rob Crooke, vice president of Intel's Digital Enterprise Group.

Intel will come to market with a 64-bit desktop processor about 18 months after its rival, Sunnyvale, Calif.-based Advanced Micro Devices, began shipping its own 64-bit-enabled Athlon 64 processor. Crooke said that while Intel was reluctant to ship a 64-bit desktop chip earlier, the company now feels the time is right, as 64-bit desktop software is coming closer to reality.

"The server market has been ramping [to 64-bit-enabled server processors], as the workstation market has had increased demand for that. We expect now is the right time for [64-bit desktop chips]," he said.

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To buttress the point, Crooke said that in the fourth quarter of 2004 Intel shipped its millionth unit of 64-bit-enabled Xeon processors—a product it launched just six months earlier.

Steve Dallman, Intel's director of North American channel marketing, said the vendor thinks its customers "will rapidly absorb and integrate the technology as they have in the past." He said the new products "significantly simplify" what Intel's channel partners need to do to become ready for the technology transitions, and should not have a negative impact on customer migration or outstanding bids with clients.

Dallman also said that although existing market- ing programs for the channel were built with these product launches in mind, Intel may add more funding later in the year for both channel and Digital Home initiatives.

System builders said they are seeing budding customer interest in dual-core technology. Some said they are more intent on offering higher-end solutions as hardware margins have been squeezed even more than normal in recent months.

"It is a plus for a business," said Peter Young, general manager of Xterasys, a City of Industry, Calif.-based system builder. "We're now getting away from the Dells and the eMachines and the low end."

Young said he believes the rollouts will pique the interest of early adopters seeking better performance, graphics and gaming solutions.