Intel will release a server version of its 64-bit technology for the x86 platform in September. It means that as people refresh their servers over the next two years, they will get 64-bit computing capability whether they want it or not.
However, analysts remain uncertain whether application developers will enable users to take advantage of the extra capacity.
The arrival of the 64-bit x86 chip, which can also run 32-bit applications, "really opens the door to all independent software vendors to at least consider whether they should 64-bit-enable their applications," said Gordon Haff, an analyst at Illuminata. If there is any benefit, they will have to act - particularly if they need to keep pace with competitors, he said.
The x86 extended platform gives users the opportunity to experiment with 64-bit applications, something that was previously possible only on dedicated systems, said Charles King, an analyst at the Sageza Group. "It has a good deal of flexibility and I think that flexibility is something that will appeal with a lot of businesses."
AMD started shipping its 64-bit, x86 Opteron systems last year, and major enterprise vendors are now shipping Opteron chips.
"What Intel is doing is refreshing their whole product line, so no product will have merely the 32-bit chip," said Rich Partridge, an analyst at D.H. Brown. "Eventually, all their products will be 64-bit design." But Partridge said users might see a break on prices for 32-bit systems as the new servers arrive.
Intel yesterday announced its workstation 64-bit extensions technology, even as HP and Dell both announced workstations built on the new Intel chip. But Dell, unlike HP, Sun and IBM, isn't delivering Opteron-based hardware, and a company spokesman Tuesday said it has no plans to do so in the near future. Dell does continue to "look at" AMD's technology, the spokesman noted.
IBM officials declined to comment on their plans for Intel's new chip line, but the company is expected to eventually ship products built on it, according to analysts. Sun, which has plans to eventually develop an eight-way Opteron system, intends to evaluate the Intel chip but hasn't announced any detailed plans to ship systems with it.
John Fowler, the executive vice president of Sun's networked systems groups, said he expects Opteron to outperform the Intel chip. "But I'm not religious about the microprocessor; I'm just out to deliver the best possible value," he said.
High-end users already have large Sparc RISC-based systems and Itanium for running 64-bit applications. But Opteron has been making inroads in the high-performance computing space, especially among Linux users in clustered environments, because its price is less than that of Unix systems.
In November, about six months after Opteron was released, AMD had four spots on the Top500 supercomputer list, including one system run by AMD. But by the time the semi-annual list was updated last week, Opteron had nearly 30 spots at university, government and military facilities, including the No. 10 position, the Shanghai Supercomputer Center. Intel, however, dominates the compilation, with 286 spots.