Processors move to 64-bit computing


Published: Monday, January 23, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 22, 2006 at 9:08 p.m.
Microsoft is scheduled to release its new 64-bit operating system, Windows Vista, this fall. Apple's latest Mac OS X Tiger operating system is already 64-bit-capable. The next "big thing" in computing will be the move to 64-bit applications and the resultant increases in performance that can accompany them.
64-bit computing promises the most effective use of computer memory and processor speed available, and will help users multi-task multi-media and other processor and memory intensive applications. Most current 32-bit programs will run on the new platform, but PCs will require a custom anti-virus solution designed for 64-bit.
In response to these changes, 64-bit processors are becoming more widely available in both the desktop and laptop platforms. Intel has lost its predominant share of portions of the desktop CPU market to AMD's Athlon 64 processors on both a cost and performance basis. Long-time market leader Dell is under pressure to begin offering AMD processors in their leading desktop PC lines, and industry rumor mills are abuzz that Dell may be about to take the plunge.
Intel, which has been slow to take on the 64-bit mantle beyond the expensive Xeon processors used in high-end servers, has recently begun releasing 64-bit desktop processors to market with little notice. I recently set up a new Gateway desktop with one of these processors, and initial performance was competitive with AMD's Athlon 64. When paired with an Intel Motherboard with onboard sound, video and most other ports built in, the combination was impressive. Intel is also known for providing support and upgrades for most of their products for years after the sale, and hopefully that trend will continue.
Apple's recently announced move to Intel processors for its OS X Tiger operating system also is a key move toward 64-bit computing. The move should signal greater compatibility with Windows-based applications. In making the move, Apple is abandoning long-time CPU supplier IBM in favor of the more powerful Intel processors. Apple has promised that, much like the transition to the Unix-based OS X, that emulators will handle the job of making older applications "Intel-friendly" on the new systems. Users should expect most of those older applications to run, but without the performance benefits found in new versions and programs optimized for 64-bit.
It has also been noted that the change to Intel, while bringing superior power to the Apple desktop line, will mean a new Mac computer will consist of an Intel processor running Apple's version of Unix, the underlying operating system of OS X, with an Apple shell and interface.
New 64-bit dual-Core processors, which can run multiple operations simultaneously, are also key to both Windows and Apple's plans to develop 64-bit computing. Expect the drive toward multimedia and TV/video integration to increase in 2006 with an increasing number of Windows Media Center PCs being sold.
AMD is also first to market with the new mobile Turion product line for laptops. Turin processors come in two different designations, ML and MT. Mobile users looking to maximize battery life should look for the MT series processor, which uses less power with little performance difference. Intel is not expected to have a mobile 64-bit processor ready before mid-2006.
Tom Meek is a computer and media consultant whose column appears on Mondays in WorkLife. He can be reached at webgator@bellsouth.net or via www.tvccs.com. His columns also are available at www.gainesvillesun.com.

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