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Wednesday, February 18, 2004
Intel, in shift, unveils 64-bit PC chip feature

Intel unveiled plans to bring features previously reserved for "big iron" business computers into PCs for home offices and small businesses, a strategic shift that marked a renewed challenge to smaller rival AMD.

The most widely discussed announcement by Intel at a technology conference it sponsored was the company's plan to boost the data-crunching power of lower-end business computers and, eventually, home computers by introducing so-called 64-bit technology for processors for those machines.

AMD introduced a similar technology -- which lets computers churn through larger chunks of data and accommodate vast amounts of computer memory -- last year.

Until Tuesday, Intel had called the shift to 64-bit technology premature for all but its highest end chips, known as Itanium, which are targeted to high-end scientific and business applications.

For their part, AMD executives have said the company expects to take advantage of its head start on 64-bit computing to steal customers from Intel, the world's largest chipmaker.

Intel CEO Craig Barrett made the announcement to support 64-bit computing at the conference, where about 4,800 product developers, analysts and reporters gathered to hear Intel's views on the direction of computing and communications.

Barrett said Intel's 64-bit chips would be designed to work with an upcoming version of Microsoft's Windows operating system, expected to be released this year, which will support 64-bit computing. That version of Windows will also support AMD's 64-bit processors.

Intel also demonstrated a feature called RAID, traditionally used in business computers, that protects data from hard drive crashes. Louis Burns, the head of Intel's desktop platforms group, said that could protect home users from losing digital photographs or home movies.

Both features will begin to appear in the market in the next quarter. Intel's Xeon chips, marketed for lower-end business tasks like serving up Web pages, will begin to take advantage of 64-bit computing.

The RAID capability will be included in a coming chip called Grantsdale, to be bundled with Intel's new Pentium 4 chip.

Intel also disclosed that the 64-bit feature already exists in its latest Pentium 4 processor used in standard PCs. The 64-bit functionality, however, will for now only be switched on for computers sold as business servers, the company said.

AMD offers 64-bit chips not only for servers, but also for desktop computers, even though the version of Windows that can support 64-bits is not expected to be released until later this year.

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