Intel will show off Opteron rival

  • Tom Krazit (IDG News Service)
  • 02 February, 2004 08:26

Intel plans to demonstrate a processor with 64-bit extensions during the upcoming Intel Developer Forum, confirming speculation that the company would respond to the processors unveiled by rival Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) last year, according to sources familiar with Intel's plans.

Rumors have circulated for years that Intel has developed and tested a product with 64-bit extensions called "Yamhill." The company has never formally acknowledged those rumors, but after three of the four major server companies gave notice that their customers are inquiring about servers with chips that bring the x86 instruction set to 64-bits, Intel is prepared to talk about such a product, sources said.

AMD's Opteron server processor is almost a year old. It brings 64-bit capabilities to 32-bit processors with the x86 instruction set that has provided the marching orders for most of the world's computers during the last 20 years. AMD also released the Athlon 64 desktop processor with the same technology in September.

Ever since AMD announced its plans to extend the x86 instruction set several years ago, Intel has denied that a market for servers with that technology would emerge by this point. In interviews one year ago at the 2003 Spring Intel Developer Forum, executives said that a 64-bit market for desktops and low-end servers probably wouldn't be ready until the end of the decade.

But IBM and Sun Microsystems announced plans to deliver servers based on the Opteron processor last year, and Hewlett-Packard (HP) said this week that it sees a demand for "x86 extensions technology" and is currently evaluating its options.

"Intel has likely had this in its back pocket for some time, and Opteron is clearly gaining marketplace momentum. Intel just didn't feel it could sit back and hope the problem would go away any longer," said Gordon Haff, an analyst with Illuminata, after learning of the demonstration.

Details were not available as to whether Intel would demonstrate a desktop or server processor during the show. An Intel spokesman declined to comment on any plans for demonstrations at the show, which takes place in San Francisco Feb. 17 through Feb. 19.

Intel President and Chief Operating Officer Paul Otellini told an analyst in an interview this week that Intel wouldn't release an x86 64-bit chip until operating system and application support was available. Microsoft plans to release a version of Windows that is compatible with AMD's technology in the second half of this year.

It is also not clear if Intel's extensions technology is compatible with AMD's technology, but the reluctance of Microsoft to develop and support separate operating systems for each processor would probably point to compatibility, said Nathan Brookwood, principal analyst with Insight 64, in an interview this week after HP revealed it has encountered demand for this technology.