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Intel Signals 64-Bit Offering May Be on Horizon
Jan 29, 2004
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Intel Corp. President and Chief Operating Officer Paul Otellini said the world's largest chip maker would likely give its 32-bit microprocessors an upgrade to 64 bits once supporting software becomes available.

“You can be fairly confident that when there is software from an application and operating system standpoint that we'll be there," Mr. Otellini said, responding to a question about 64-bit technology, in an interview with a Wall Street analyst that was broadcast over the Web.

Otellini's comments represented Intel's strongest endorsement yet of a technological advance first introduced by rival Advanced Micro Devices Inc., said Nathan Brookwood, a technology analyst with Insight 64.

"That's a very important statement in the sense that it more or less anticipates that there will be a single compatible technique that Intel will use and AMD is using now," Mr. Brookwood said.

Other than to say they were watching the area carefully, Intel executives have stayed quiet on the subject of 64-bit chips for personal computers and low-end computer servers.

Analysts, however, have long speculated that Intel engineers have been busy working on such a technology, but have remained quiet on the subject so as not to take attention away from Itanium, Intel's line of 64-bit chips for server computers that can cost upward of U.S. $50,000 each.

While most personal computers in the market today rely on 32-bit microchips, 64-bit chips provide special advantages for running video games, producing video, or churning through large amounts of data.

Also, 64-bit computers can accommodate vast amounts of computer memory—opening up far more powerful applications—whereas 32-bit computers are limited to 4 gigabytes of memory.

Mr. Otellini said regular computer users were unlikely today to spend thousands of dollars for computer memory for PCs that can cost as low as $699. Eventually, however, as memory prices drop and software becomes more complex, he said, breaking the 4-gigabyte memory limit will make sense.

"Just like we went from 16 to 32-bits, the memory requirements grow over time on applications, just as memory costs come down over time," he said. "So at some point it becomes very economical."

Otellini's comments now suggest that Intel intends to release a desktop chip similar to and compatible with AMD's 64-bit offering, Mr. Brookwood said.

"That should make for a more orderly market and transition to 64-bit, and in some ways is a tacit endorsement of what AMD is doing," he said.
Last year AMD pushed ahead with its AMD64 line of chips, which run today's 32-bit software but can support 64-bit software being developed by Microsoft Corp. and others. (Reuters)

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