December 9, 2003

AMD's Windows woes: Linux to the rescue!

Author: Lucas Martin-King

AMD's 64-bit Opteron processor has a problem -- not a technical problem, but a commercial one.
The main market for the Opteron is Microsoft Windows users, but 99.9% of
all Windows applications are compiled for 32-bit processors.
To harness the advantage of AMD's 64-bit beast, programs will
need to be recompiled and possibly modified to run more effectively.

The Opteron may have compatibility for 32-bit programs, but it won't
be as effective as its native 64-bit mode. At best, I predict that 40% of all Windows-based programs will have
support for AMD 64-bit platforms by 2005. Microsoft has released a 64-bit version
of Windows XP, but that itself is still in beta testing.

Many customers will shell out for an expensive processor and get
little (if any) performance gain compared to the Intel Pentium 4.
Benchmarks so far have showed only a small difference between the Opteron
and the Intel Pentium 4/Xeon.

Unless AMD can rouse Windows developers to recompile their programs to
support 64 bits, the company could be looking at a future as a niche
player, which brings me to the next part of this article.

Linux - 64 bits and counting

But AMD may still have a chance. As we know, Linux has 64-bit support, and
had it for around 10 years. Because of this, most Linux programs are portable to any computer architecture -- whether it be IA-32 (Intel 386+),
AMD64 (Opteron), PPC/64 (PowerPC and the G5), or any of the slew of others that the
kernel runs on.

The nature of Open Source means that anyone can recompile programs released
under an OSS licence for the Opteron. Thus, huge performance gains can be made
against 32-bit processors. The thought of using The Gimp graphics program
on an Opteron system makes my mouth
water! Or for those more entertainment-minded, picture Doom III (when it's
released) coupled with some awesome graphics card!

OK, I'm getting off track here, but my point is that Linux has 64-bit support
and it has it now. Linux and AMD are a natural partnership.

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