It's like two big dogs fighting over a bone while a little dog sits by watching as it happily gnaws on the prize. Of course, in this case, the little dog is actually just as big as the other two, if not bigger, and the bone really isn't just one bone; it's … hell, I'm no good at similes.
But it is a mite entertaining to watch Intel and AMD chase one another's pile of gold while Microsoft sits on the sidelines, poised to gain no matter which chipmaker prevails. In recent years, power users looking for value muscle have taken AMD very seriously while leaving their server purchases largely in the hands of Intel. AMD is seeking to change that with this week's announcement of Open Platform Management Architecture (OPMA). Intel, meanwhile, is busy chasing AMD's power user customers with its release of an x64-compatible Pentium 4 series of chips.
The Intel Pentium 4 6xx chips series will run between 3.2GHz and 3.6GHz with a roomy 2MB of L2 cache and will even offer compatibility with the x64 CPUs engineered by AMD. There's also the dorkily named Extreme Edition CPU that will run at 3.73GHz. Intel is promising to convert even its cheaper Celery -- I mean Celeron -- line of CPUs to x64 by the end of the year.
For those who don't know, the x64 architecture allows compatibility with new 64-bit software and OS platforms while retaining backward compatibility with 32-bit software and hardware. Intel's previous 64-bit candidate, Itanium, lacked this capability and subsequently got left behind like Macaulay Culkin on a Christmas vacation. Power freaks and corporate workstation purchasers will now have a real choice when it comes to 64-bit workstation computing, but the real happy camper is Redmond, which is set to release Windows XP Professional x64 Edition in the next few weeks.
I had a chance to see an RC2 version of XP Pro x64 running at the Advanced Network Computing Laboratory (ANCL) testing facility, and for the most part, you'll find it looks and runs similarly to the 32-bit version. But as we've seen with every previous shift in computing bit power, the heartaches only start with hardware. They end up with software. Without true 64-bit support among Microsoft's ISV community, 64-bit workstation computing really won't get you much in the way of tangible performance increases and will, in fact, spawn some not-so-minor headaches out of the gate.
An example that I expect to be fixed by the time that XP Pro x64 ships: Only the core version of IE runs properly within the OS. Any of the plug-ins that your users may have installed at present don't run. We also had to take it off an Internet-accessible segment because we can't get any anti-virus solutions to run properly. Again, however, this is RC-level code, so I'm hoping to see a whole bunch of fixes in the shipping code coming in a month or so.