Athlon 64 for desktops hits market

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A new era of performance improvements in business computing may have taken another step today, with the launch of what chipmaker AMD claims is the world's first 64-bit, 32-bit-compatible processor for desktop and mobile applications -- the Athlon 64.

AMD claims the new processor is fully 32-bit, x86-architecture compatible -– bridging the gap between today's 32-bit applications and the increased performance promised by many 64-bit applications in future. AMD's 64-bit processor for servers, the Opteron, was released April this year.

“This is another product available to the high-end through the channel, combining a high selling price as well that in itself is going to generate revenue for a specific target market [including] PC enthusiasts, high-end content creators and rev-head-type people,” said John Robinson, AMD country manager for Australia and New Zealand.

Robinson said the Athlon 64 was available from today to Australian OEMs –- such as AMD partners Optima Technology Solutions and ASI Solutions –- via distributors Avnet and Legend. The AMD Athlon 64 3200+ RRP is US$417 for 1,000-unit quantities and the top-end AMD Athlon 64 FX-51 is US$733, he said.

Although the product initially targets “extreme” PC enthusiasts, such as gamers, the processor was expected to drive a wave of performance improvements that would flow on to business computing. AMD believes the improvements kick-started by the advent of 64-bit processing would be on a larger scale than the changes seen in the migration from 16-bit to 32-bit computing.

“It's 64-bit computing but 32-bit compatible, so you can buy 32-bit applications but build into that 64-bit capability, so as 64-bit applications build more and more steam it will provide a whole new wave of 'cinematic' computing -– that's what the chip is capable of doing,” Robinson said.

AMD summed up the performance capability as “cinematic computing”, meaning that 64-bit processing can crunch data fast enough to offer multi-media experiences of similar quality to that of cinema. 64-bit processing –- along with broadband -– is expected to accelerate the possibilities and uptake of digital wireless home networking.

“And as it gathers steam [64-bit] will go into the mainstream [computing] arena,” Robinson said. “Every segment of the market, such as business users, both large and small, will adopt this ... The industry is hungry for a quantum leap in innovation.”

Iain Walker, partner manager at Microsoft Australia's OEM division, said Windows XP for 64-bit edition was expected to ship in the first half of 2004. The software was in Beta 1 with final code expected early 2004, he said.

“It will fully exploit the 64-bit architecture ... Compatibility [will be] 100 percent,” he claimed.

Windows XP Home and Windows XP Professional were compatible with Athlon 64-based desktops, Walker added.

Dan Vivoli, executive vice-president of marketing at specialist graphics card vendor NVIDIA, said 64-bit processing would give the computing industry a chance to offer improved platforms across “all digital media”, including high-speed networking, storage and connectivity.

Craig Quinn, product manager at box builder ASI Solutions, said the new processor offered many different possibilities.

“The AMD Athlon 64 will allow our customers to run today's 32-bit applications with great performance and investment protection, with the ability to move to tomorrow's 64-bit applications,” Quinn said.

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