AMD 64-bit laptop next week! - with benchmarks.

by Guy Kewney | posted on 17 September 2003

Next Tuesday, the 64-bit world comes down to the desktop - and even the laptop - as AMD launches its first Athlon 64 processor family officially. Wireless drivers may not be ready right away.

Guy Kewney

It probably marks the end of the doldrums for the PC business, because the word is that when the benchmark results are shown to analysts in Cannes on Tuesday, the speed of these 64-bit X86 machines will be impressive.

The other detail which is being withheld till Tuesday, is the price. But it is now certain that there will be a laptop available, too.

"It's not going to rival the Centrino, no," said a candid Richard Baker, European marketing chief, recently. "It's probably going to be better on battery life than people think, given its power, but it's the power of the processor that will matter.

It will be the first portable PC able to run 64-bit Windows, or 64-bit Linux, says Phil Cole, marketing manager. "It's Windows, but compiled and optimised to support 64-bit applications and workloads."

The Athlon is mostly the same chip as the Opteron; binary compatible and architecturally compatible so that anything which runs on one runs on the other. The main difference is that the Athlon 64 is a single processor, and can't be networked into a multi-processor array, while the Opteron can scale up to eight ways today, and more in the future."There are other tweaks for the Opteron, in terms of cache sizes and memory channels, which make it better engineered for the server market," said Cole.

Compatibility will be an issue. Not software compatibility, mostly; drivers."If you buy an Athlon and run standard 32-bit off-shelf apps, there should be a high degree of compatibility. We're going through a programme of certifying. The only problems you might have, is that some of the driver code is still in beta; some device drivers are missing, for example."

Irritatingly, AMD isn't revealing which, for fear of discouraging its partners - but some graphics cards, some special purpose wireless devices, and so on, will simply not work until 64-bit code is available.

It would be a good guess, for example, that standard 802.11b wireless cards will work, but it would be a riskier guess to suggest that the new 802.11g fast networking wireless cards will be OK.

And the final OS will be released after the machines; the final software will probably be out by the end of the year, some developers hope.

Most systems will ship with 512 megabytes of memory; but AMD expects many people to go for a gigabyte as standard.

"But it will run 32-bit XP Pro, or any other application off the box; and 32-bit Linux too. If you use 32-bit software, then it's just a super-Athlon," said Cole.

By 2007, AMD reckons, all PCs will be 64-bit; 32-bit will be gone. But the switch starts here, and the industry is quietly hoping that this will kick-start a revival in sales of desktops, at least, especially for the home user.

"There's been very little around to persuade people to upgrade their PC equipment," said Cole, "apart from a few CD burners and flat screens; little to tempt them to upgrade their processor. But there are a lot of old PCs ripe for replacement - there were the 'Year 2000 bug machines,' all coming up for renewal, for example. This offers something new that nobody could buy before."

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