RealTime IT News

Microsoft Betas Windows XP 64-Bit on AMD64

Following through on a promise it made in April as AMD rolled out its Opteron 64-bit processors as a precursor to today's Athlon release, Microsoft Tuesday launched a beta of its Windows XP operating system designed to support 64-bit Extended Systems.

Windows XP 64-bit Edition for 64-Bit Extended Systems will support AMD64 technology, running natively on AMD Athlon 64 powered desktops and AMD Opteron processor-powered workstations.

Microsoft has dubbed the technology Windows on Windows 64 (WOW64), and claimed a key benefit of the update will be to allow customers who have Windows XP-compatible 32-bit applications run those applications on the 64-bit operating system. Microsoft also claimed that the WOW64 architecture will enable compatibility of those 32-bit applications without a loss of performance "in nearly all cases."

The new operating system steals a march on Microsoft's close partner -- and AMD's arch-rival -- Intel , which has long argued that 64-bit still belongs to the big tin and that it won't make an x86-64 processor for desktops. Intel officials, from CEO Paul Otellini and down, have argued that most desktops won't need more than 4GB of memory -- the current limit for 32-bit processors -- until the end of the decade. Because of that, the company has said in the past that it won't need to develop a 64-bit desktop processor until 2008 or 2009. Instead, it plans to continue pushing its high value, high margin 64-bit Itanium processors for the big tin.

In April, when Microsoft and AMD announced their plan, Martin Reynolds, a vice president with Gartner Dataquest who follows microprocessors, told internetnews.com that he believes Windows 64-bit will remain a niche product for several years, and doesn't see Microsoft's decision to go with AMD64 as turning the screw on Intel just yet.

"This isn't mainstream," Reynolds said. "This isn't for the typical user and won't be for some years. The catch is that some of the stuff has to be left behind to move to 64-bit. On the other hand, users who need large memory -- that's some server applications and some workstation applications -- could find benefit from 64-bit Windows."

One of the current obstacles to Windows 64-bit adoption, Reynolds said, is that it won't be able to handle 16-bit applications. While those applications are nowhere near as common as they used to be, they still hang around as legacy applications in many organizations.

That's not to say Reynolds doesn't see a place for Windows 64-bit. He said Dataquest believes 64-bit systems will start becoming necessary around 2005, as more applications demand memory systems larger than 32-bit systems can handle. He also projected that 64-bit systems will become mainstream by 2007.

Microsoft and AMD -- while noting that the 64-bit platform will be a boon to engineering and scientific projects, financial services, online transaction processing, data warehousing and computer-aided design -- are also positioning Windows 64-bit as a consumer option, pointing to the possibilities it opens for gaming and digital media.

"Windows XP and AMD64 hold the promise of bringing 64-bit computing to a whole new set of computer users, delivering immersive, cinema-quality user experiences for gaming and working with digital media," said Dirk Meyer, senior vice president of the Computation Products Group at AMD.

Microsoft noted that because the WOW64 architecture is compatible with their current 32-bit applications, those customers will have a seamless upgrade path to 64-bit versions of the applications when they become available.

Microsoft has made the beta of Windows XP 64-Bit Edition for 64-Bit Extended Systems available to MSDN subscribers. The company said a final release is planned for the first half of 2004. Windows Server 2003 for 64-Bit Extended Systems is also available in beta, and Microsoft said it expects final release for that operating system in the first half of 2004 as well.