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Intel Corporation demonstrates a technology that can allow the chip giant to offer processors capable of 32-bit and 64-bit computing at the International Solid State Circuits Conference (ISSCC) and Intel Developer Forum in San Francisco today. The technology is projected to be available in Intel’s next-generation processors for DP servers – the new Xeon chips with Nocona core.

The core of Intel’s 64-bit enhancements to the x86 architecture is a new ALU that can work in both 32-bit and 64-bit modes. It is said that the 90nm ALU runs at 7GHz in 32-bit mode and at 4GHz in 64-bit mode boosting performance by roughly 20% and reducing energy consumption by about 56%, according to Intel.

Theoretically such ALU may be implemented in almost any new processor from Intel, but currently the talks are mostly about upcoming Pentium and Xeon products.

The new ALU and attendant technologies are likely to be available in Intel Xeon processors code-named Nocona that will ship in the second quarter of the year. Besides presumable 64-bit capability, the new generation Xeon 1M “Nocona” processors will be fairly different compared to current Xeon 1M CPUs from numerous micro architectural points of view. Firstly, Nocona’s L1 cache is two times larger compared to the current Xeon DP processors’ and equals to 16KB. Secondly, Nocona includes 16K uOps Trace Cache, a substantial improvement over current 12K uOps. Thirdly, 90nm DP products will make use of Prescott’s new, more efficient branch prediction mechanism. Fourthly, the new Xeon 1M microprocessors will feature SSE3 technology. Finally, the new Intel Xeon 1M “Nocona” will boast with enhanced efficiency of the Hyper-Threading technology. Additionally, all Nocona Xeon 1M chips will have 800MHz Quad Pumped Bus – probably the major factor to improve Xeon performance apart from 64-bit ALU, as current 2P Intel’s chips feature 533MHz processor system bus. All-in-all, the new processors for 2-way servers and workstations will be quite substantially different than current Xeon 1M products at the same speed bins.

Reportedly, leading server makers, such as HP, already have Intel-powered 32-/64-bit servers in the roadmap expected to be available in the first half of the year.

As a result of introduction the DP processor capable of both 32-bit and 64-bit computing Intel will be in a competing position to AMD Opteron 200 series microprocessors that also contain 64-bit extensions and are able to run applications developed for x86 systems. Given that Nocona chips are only intended to work in 2-way systems, Intel will still have to offer its Itanium 2 processors as a 64-bit option for 4/8-way machines. While Itanium 2 offers premium speed in 64-bit mode, its performance in 32-bit mode leaves to deserve better amid much greater hardware cost, therefore, quite some enterprises would stick to 4/8-way Opteron if they needed 32-bit and 64-bit capabilities. But given that certification and development of 4P and 8P servers based on Opteron processors proceeds slowly, Opteron 800 series is not a big treat for Intel right now, while next year the company will have a 90nm MP chip with the same 32-/64-bit capabilities as Nocona.

Along with the new processors Intel should probably bring out the infrastructure for the chips, such as chipsets, mainboards, etc. It is not clear how long it takes Intel to certify all the components for its new 32-/64-bit CPUs and systems.

According to Intel's claims, its new x86 chips with 64-bit enhancements will be supported by Microsost Windows Server 2003 for Extended Systems due in the second half of the year. AMD's Athlon 64 and Opteron chips will also rely on the same operating system.

Official comments are not available at press time.

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