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.

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