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Last Updated: Tuesday, 23 September, 2003, 20:15 GMT 21:15 UK
Chip launch ushers in new era
AMD's Athlon 64 chip, AMD
A naked Athlon 64
Chip maker AMD has launched its long anticipated Athlon 64 computer processor.

Gamers, scientists and engineers will probably be among the first users of the chip, keen to benefit from the boost in performance AMD promises it will give them.

The chip brings 64-bit computing to desktop machines, even though there are relatively few programs in use that can take full advantage of its capabilities.

The launch looks set to intensify competition between AMD and its arch-rival Intel.

Ambitious plans

Currently the vast majority of machines in homes and sitting beneath the desks of business workers use 32-bit technology.

Computing has come a long way in the past 50 years. Source: Los Alamos National Laboratory/SPL.

The 32-bit refers to the amount of data that a chip can take in during each processing cycle.

Before now 64-bit computing has been reserved for servers that work with very large databases and that need the performance boost this way of working gives them

But many industry commentators believe that eventually even humble household machines will be converted to 64-bit computing.

To bridge the gap between now and then, AMD's Athlon 64 can handle both 32-bit and 64-bit applications.

Also early reports suggest that the Athlon 64 can run existing applications faster than comparable Pentium 4 based machines.

This might mean that some firms pick AMD's new chip to get a quick performance boost and to start putting in place machines that can handle 64-bit computing when it becomes more common.

Desktop machines and laptops featuring the Athlon 64 are expected to go on sale almost as soon as the chip is launched.

Screenshot from Unreal Tournament, Atari
First person shooter Unreal is being re-worked for AMD's new chip
AMD admits that it has a hard task ahead educating people about 64-bit computing but said it will have some help along the way.

Microsoft has pledged to produce a 64-bit version of Windows for AMD's new processor and Atari is promising to update the Unreal Tournament game for the chip too.

AMD may win customers not least because Intel does not make or sell a 64-bit desktop chip.

It is rumoured to be working on a similar chip to AMD's Athlon 64 but this processor is unlikely to appear soon.

Competition does exist in the form of the Apple Power Mac G5, a 64-bit desktop machine that Apple claimed was the fastest personal computer in the world when it was launched earlier this month.

The release of the Athlon 64 is not AMD's first foray into 64-bit computing as it launched its Opteron servers in April. Intel too sells a range of 64-bit servers based around its Itanium chips.

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