64-Bit Windows Part 6: The Hardware Landscape

What does the 64-bit hardware landscape look like today, 18 months after AMD introduced the first x86 processor? On September 8th, at the Intel Developer Forum, Abhi Talkwalkar, general manager of Intel’s Enterprise Platform Group acknowledged that Itanium sales are not meeting the “aggressive” levels that Intel had set. By contrast, the Opteron market has exploded: AMD shipped 2,700 of them in the second quarter of 2003, and 60,000 in the same quarter of this year. They announced a new production facility in Germany in October to keep up with the demand. HP, IBM and Sun are all shipping servers with Opterons, with Sun leading them in sales. Sun quotes the Gartner Group as saying that Opteron’s outshipped Itaniums by a factor of ten in the second quarter of this year.


Intel announced this past February that it would be providing processors compatible with the x64 standard that AMD had devised, and you can already buy those processors in either the Pentium or Xeon brands in systems from Dell, and HP and IBM also ship units with Intel x64 processors. Yet, there is still an important difference between the Intel x64 processors and the AMD Opterons and Athlon 64’s. Remember me writing about how the Opteron optimizes access to memory by having the memory controllers built right into the processor? Well, the AMD 64-bit processors are the only ones to have that feature. Intel has chosen to retain the memory controllers on the North Bridge. Their x64 processors have an abundance of Level Two cache. But remember, access to the cache is via the North Bridge, over the Front-Side Bus in their architecture.

In summary, we have Itaniums steadily dominating the top 11% of the market, with the x64 phenomenon quickly taking over the rest.