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Intel preps 64-bit x86 tech – report

Competitor's Technology?

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Intel will finally come clean on its oft-rumoured 'Yamhill' 64-bit extensions to the x86 instruction set and demonstrate its entry into the 64-bit desktop processor market next month at its Developer Forum.

So claim sources "familiar with the company's plans" cited by CNET.

Earlier this week, Intel's President and COO, Paul Otellini, confirmed in a web-cast interview that a move into the 64-bit desktop market was certain, but that the company would nevertheless wait for the arrival of operating system and application support.

"You can be fairly confident that when there is software from an application and operating system standpoint, we'll be there," he said.

CTO Pat Gelsinger has gone on record in the past as saying that 64-bit computing on the desktop won't be needed for several more years yet.

CNET's sources suggest that the announcement will come much sooner than the delivery. IDF kicks off on 17 February, and will include a mention of 'CT' - the name Intel is giving to its 64-bit x86 extensions, they claim.

Might CT stand for 'Competitor's Technology'? asks one Register reader.

Whatever, it's not expected to surface in product until 2005 - the same timeframe as the arrival of 'Tejas', the follow-up to the next generation of the Pentium 4, 'Prescott'. Prescott is expected to be launched as shipping product on Monday, at long last, the day after Intel takes the axe to the prices of its current P4 line-up. The Tejas-based Xeon DP is codenamed 'Jayhawk'.

Prescott may also contain Yamhill/CT - certainly most analysts believe that's the case - but in an unusable form. Prescott-based Xeon server chips, including the 'Nocona' Xeon DP and 'Potomac' Xeon MP should also sport the technology, but whether it will be enabled isn't yet clear. It the technology follows the same path as HyperThreading, it will be enabled in Xeons first, followed by Pentiums later. Arguably there's more need for 64-bit technology in the server and workstation arenas than in mainstream desktop computing.

Does the launch of CT - or whatever Intel's 64-bit technology will be called - spell the end of Itanic. Not necessarily. Itanium will continue to be pitched at big iron applications, traditionally the province of 64-bit Risc chips. Yes, in such environments 64-bit computing is a key requirement, but it's not the only one. Fault tolerance, error correction and a range of other features are in demand too. While a 64-bit Xeon will pull more customers out of the Unix domain and into the commodity server realm, many other users will need a more reliable processor than that, and those are the folk Intel will target with Itanium.

The volumes may be small in the big iron market, but the revenues are many times greater than the commodity arena. The arrival of a 64-bit Xeon simply moves the border between the two markets a little - it doesn't eliminate one, at least not for the foreseeable future. After the Internet bubble, the commodity server market isn't what it was.

With a presence in both markets, Intel wins either way. ®

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