Compatibility and price generally win over performance. That’s why you won’t see a Formula One racing car next to you at the stoplight. With Intel playing both the IA64 and x86-64 fields, and AMD holding on to the first-mover advantage in x86-64, this will be an interesting fight. Intel is in the unfortunate position of marketing two opposing 64-bit processors, and capitulation to AMD with the EM64T chip will undoubtedly hurt Itanium sales, at least for the commodity server market.
Still in the race, yet not included in these tests, are the other 64-bit CPUs available today. There are quite a few, from Sun’s all-but-deceased SPARC to the PowerPC 970 processor from IBM, better known as Apple’s G5 CPU. We wouldn’t run tests against the SPARC (Sun has acknowledged that it’s moving to Opteron for servers in this class), but the G5 is fair game. Apple hasn’t refreshed the Xserve line with the new 2.5GHz G5s as of yet, but the PowerMac workstations are shipping with the new CPUs. As soon as we get a solid representation of the new G5, we’ll be running the same benchmarks, ideally on OS X as well as on Linux for the PPC.
Given the new, built-in migration path from 32-bit to 64-bit computing, expect to see 32-bit x86-based CPU prices fall into the basement -- and watch as hardware vendors relegate today’s top-end Xeon and P4 processors to their ultra-low-end servers. Meanwhile, the midrange servers will ship with x86-64-based processors.
Many vendors were sluggish to embrace AMD’s Opteron following its release, primarily due to their reluctance to disrupt relations with Intel. Recently this has changed, with such large enterprise server vendors as Hewlett-Packard and IBM actively developing and selling Opteron-based server platforms. In fact, Dell is the only major enterprise-class server vendor that has no current Opteron-based server offering.
Both Intel and AMD will be pushing hard for dominance of the new x86-64 market. AMD may be in the lead at the moment, but the race is far from over. The result will be “average” servers that handle much more than the current crop of 32-bit machines. When developers begin writing exclusively for the x86-64 instruction set, the true benefit of these chips will emerge. But with x86 compatibility a reality today, there’s little reason to wait.