24 September 2003 Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) has finally released Athlon 64, the world’s first Intel-compatible 64-bit microprocessor for desktop PCs.
The chip will compete against Intel’s 32-bit Pentium 4 at the high-end of the market, but while it will undoubtedly appeal to power users, analysts suggest that there are few actual applications that can take advantage of its 64-bit processing power at the moment.
That does not worry AMD CEO Hector Ruiz. He believes that the chip’s backwards compatibility with the 32-bit instruction set of Intel and Intel compatible chips will appeal to people who want the most powerful machine now, while still being able to run their older applications. “Our industry, right now, is hungry for another round of innovation,” he said at the launch of the new chip in San Francisco, California.
Intel’s 64-bit offering, the Itanium, in contrast, has been dogged with problems, does not offer backwards compatibility and is too expensive for the desktop PC market.
The main advantage of 64-bit computing is that it can address more than four gigabytes of memory at any one time. However, Nathan Brookwood, an analyst at Insight 64, does not believe that the average PC will ship with that much memory before 2006.
The Athlon 64 is also physically bigger and therefore more expensive to produce than Intel’s Pentium 4. Brookwood believes that the company will need to design a smaller Athlon 64 within the next year in order to compete.
That is on top of a planned move from a 0.13 micron process archecture to a 0.09 process architecture during the first half of next year. The process architecture refers to the physical widths of the circuitry of the microprocessor. The smaller it is, the less silicon that is required to build the chip.
Nevertheless, the prices will still be sufficiently enticing for a large number of users. The Athlon 64 3000+ chip for notebooks has a list price of $278 in batches of 1,000, while the standard Athlon 64 3200+ will sell for $417. PC vendors therefore ought to be able to put together powerful Athlon 64 -based systems for less than $1,500.
- Athlon 64 is not the first 64-bit desktop microprocessor. Apple’s PowerMac G5, which was released earlier in the summer, sports a 64-bit IBM/Motorola PowerPC chip, although there are some doubts about the company’s claims for its performance, relative to a high-end Pentium 4-based PC.