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The worlds No.1 chipmaker this week reportedly confirmed existence of its own 64-bit x86 microprocessor, but then denied the reality of any Intel’s x86-64 CPU, when asked for clarification.

Investor’s Business Daily on Wednesday published an article quoting Intel public relations’ officers saying that the Santa Clara, California-based chipmaker has a working prototype of a 64-bit x86 design that it could bring to market “when customers request it.”

When asked for clarification, an Intel’s spokespersons said: “the Intel PR person was misquoted... So we have not confirmed a CPU or prototype or whatever IBD claimed.”

“The report is an error. Intel has not confirmed or commented on the existence of an x86 64-bit CPU,” another one official from Intel commented.

This is not the first indication of a 64-bit x86 design from Intel, though, this time all information comes from Intel’s official PR people, not analysts or sources close to the company.

Being not big sellers for Advanced Micro Devices now, AMD Athlon 64 processor have been a big hype for AMD during the past 24 months because of its 64-bit enhancements. Although support for 64-bit extensions may not provide a staggering boost in performance of AMD processors at first, the chip is likely to become a good seller for the Sunnyvale, California-based CPU maker, and, after it substitutes the Athlon XP chips, will hold about 20% market share for AMD. This, on the turn, may catalyze software developers to go AMD’s 64-bit route – something the semiconductor giant from Santa Clara, California would not welcome.

Intel Corporation has spent billions of dollars and nearly 10 years developing its 64-bit Itanium processor’s EPIC architecture that is fundamentally different from conventional x86 architecture used in the majority of today’s desktop processors. Given the fact that specially developed and optimised software is needed for Itanium and Itanium 2 chips to show all their power, some customers keep away from those CPUs because they still need to run demanding software compatible only with x86. Furthermore, Itanium 2 processors, supporting mainboards and other system components cost quite far beyond generally accepted $2000 - $3000 per high-performance desktop personal computer. Being lot more affordable, AMD64 chips, on the other hand, offer great performance in 32-bit applications as well as support for 64-bit extensions, therefore, quite a lot of consumers may choose AMD’s 64-bit processors instead of Intel’s.

In case AMD succeeds in convincing customers in necessity for 64-bit CPUs already next year, Intel’s sales may tumble in 2004. In order to catch up with the rival offering 64-bit CPUs, Intel either needs to dramatically lower the prices on its IA64 microprocessors and supporting components, or to roll-out a new x86 design with support for 64-bit enhancements.

Given that the majority of software is still made for 32-bit chips, while IA64 products cannot run such applications faster than today’s high-end Pentium 4 CPUs, it is not likely that customers will bite IA64 in 2004-2005, provided that Intel does not perform any tangible steps aimed to improve x86 emulation on its EPIC processors.

In late October this year X-bit labs’ sources whishing to remain anonymous said Intel’s next-generation NetBurst CPUs code-named Prescott have 64-bit extensions. Nevertheless, these extensions will not be enabled right in the first flavours of Intel Pentium 4 SSE3 microprocessors.

Intel’s top managers have been reportedly considering the enablement of the 64-bit extensions in Prescott and Tejas processors for some time now, but no final decisions have been made. What we know for sure is that Intel is not likely to turn on additional functionality of the Prescott processor until 2005, probably when AMD’s 64-bit processors become more or less wide-spread on the market and may affect Intel’s sales. In early 2005 Intel is set to launch its code-named Tejas CPUs.

“The Xeon market is a high-margin area, and Intel cannot afford to give this away to AMD, true, the Deerfield and Fanwood will address some of this, but until the market changes software, the Xeon must have the ability to address more than 4GB of memory,” said another anonymous source close to chip-giant.

According to some information, Intel’s extensions may be a part of the well-known Yamhill project and will not be compatible with AMD’s 64-bit extensions available now in AMD Opteron and Athlon 64 processors. One of the first products to sport Intel’s own 64-bit extensions to IA32 may be Intel’s next-generation Xeon MP processor code-named Potomac, a source suggests.

Intel keeps its secrets well and does not say anything in regards its strategy concerning 64-bit chips for mainstream PCs. Will it be a cost-effective Itanium? Or a high-end IA32 with extensions?


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