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AMD: the 64-bit battle

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AMD's ambitions for Opteron have been widely broadcast. It hopes the chip will secure its entry to the lucrative corporate market, in servers and high-performance computers.

Few debutantes would want to want to make their entry on to the world stage at such an uncertain time. If a struggling IT market and sluggish economy wasn't enough, the current war in Iraq adds a special gloom to the proceedings.

There are some factors in AMD's favor. PC sales have been in the doldrums for some time now, to put it mildly. However, there is a feeling that the long-awaited PC upgrade cycle has finally begun. Perhaps AMD will once again be able to exploit a price advantage over Intel even as budgets loosen slightly. Its claim that Opteron offers a more orderly transition to 64-bit computing may also attract the attention of companies that are wary of sudden technological leaps in the current market.

On the other hand, battered CIOs and CTOs may opt for a conservative approach. If they feel they need to move to 64-bit computing at all, they may opt for one of the established players, IBM or Sun, or simply bow to what Intel says is the inevitable and opt for Itanium. So far, the roll-out of Intel's Itanium appears to resemble the US airline industry - lots of pilots but little real business being done. But Microsoft will launch a 64-bit version of Windows XP this month. The advent of a (potentially) mass-market operating system should convince the likes of Dell to get on board the Itanium bandwagon.

It's hard to see AMD winning an outright victory over Intel in the 64-bit market. But then again, AMD has never decisively won in the 32-bit market either. Rather, it survived by offering a cost-effective alternative, and because, let's face it, people like an underdog. The corporate market is not big on emotional responses to technology though. As AMD hands round the chips at Opteron's coming-out party, some may feel a more appropriate moniker for its new baby would have been Optimism.

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