Well, CPUs supporting 64-bit extensions of the x86 architecture are currently available from both major CPU manufacturers. And they are going to be shipping in even bigger quantities in the nearest future. In other words, the first step towards mass transition to 64-bit applications has already been made. The second step in that direction will follow shortly. It will be the release of the 64-bit user operating systems, with Windows XP Professional x64 Edition being among the most important ones. After that 64-bit software and applications will start overwhelming the market. So, it looks like we will be witnessing a massive transition from the obsolete 32-bit architecture to the more advanced 64-bit one.
In fact, we haven’t yet fully faced the limitations imposed by the 32-bit mode, and the 4GB of RAM seem quite enough for any type of tasks. However, progress keeps going and very soon we will see that much RAM only by the entry-level systems. This is exactly when we are going to see true advantages of the 64-bit processors and operating systems.
However, we have to state that the entire infrastructure necessary for successful transition to 64-bit era is almost ready. The operating system ready to be released works just fine, even though it is still an RC1 revision. Most drivers have also been almost finalized by now. All we can do now is wait until Windows XP Professional x64 Edition comes out, which should happen in H1 2005.
A really big advantage of the new Windows XP Professional x64 Edition OS is its ability to allow smooth transition from 32-bit applications to 64-bit ones, because it supports both: usual 32-bit software and the new 64-bit programs. Moreover, our today’s test session showed that 32-bit programs are performed in Windows XP Professional x64 Edition without any significant performance losses. This way, if you are a happy owner of a CPU with AMD64 or EM64T support, you have green light to install Windows XP Professional x64 Edition. Just keep in mind that it still might be incompatible with some specific software and hardware, so you’d better double-check first.
As for the performance quality provided by the CPUs from AMD and Intel when processing 64-bit extensions, it is still too early to make any final verdicts about that. According to our preliminary testing in a very limited number of benchmarks, CPUs supporting AMD64 technology provide higher performance gain when working with 64-bit code than the CPUs supporting EM64T. However, the opposite is also true once there is proper optimization for the EM64T technology, and in this case we saw Intel processors show much better potential than the competitor’s solutions.
That is why I would for now refrain from voicing out any final conclusions about the winner on the hardware front. Software developers who continue working on 64-bit applications are now the ones the outcome of this duel depends on in the first place.