April 25, 2005 6:00 AM PDT

Microsoft launches 64-bit Windows

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After revving the engine for quite a while, Microsoft is hoping to take 64-bit computing into the fast lane.

The software maker, which has been tooling around with the 64-bit version of Windows for the better part of two years, is announcing the general availability of the long-awaited product later on Monday. The company will start selling 64-bit editions of both Windows Server 2003 and Windows XP Professional.

The new Windows won't be showing up on retail shelves, though. Customers who buy a desktop or server with a 64-bit chip will have the option of getting the new operating system, while people who own an existing 64-bit machine will have the option of trading in their old 32-bit Windows for the 64-bit upgrade.

Microsoft's announcement is welcome news, particularly for chipmaker AMD, which has had 64-bit server chips on the market for two years and 64-bit desktop processors for 18 months. The software maker issued a test version of 64-bit Windows in the fall of 2003, when AMD released its first Athlon 64 processors. A final version was planned for early last year, but encountered a number of delays.

"With today's release of Microsoft's Windows Server 2003 x64 Editions and Windows XP Professional x64 Edition, customers can now fully realize the power of the AMD Opteron processor," AMD CEO Hector Ruiz said in a statement. Of course, while AMD has been waiting, rival Intel has come out with similar chips of its own.

The so-called x64 versions of Windows support chips from Intel and AMD that have added 64-bit instructions to the existing Pentium and Athlon architectures. Microsoft already has a version of Windows for Intel's high-end 64-bit Itanium chip, which uses a completely distinct instructions set.

Drivers wanted
Now that Microsoft has finally finished its 64-bit work, the company is doing all it can to get others to follow suit. Having the hardware and software isn't the only thing that is needed. In order to effectively work in 64-bit environments, computer users also need updated drivers for their hardware add-ons, which are things like scanners and printers.

That is the one area where Microsoft still needs help--a message Microsoft executives have stressed for some time and are likely to reiterate at this week's Windows Hardware Engineering Conference in Seattle. So far, about 16,000 drivers have been rewritten to support the new operating system.

Already, PC makers are hopping on the bandwagon, particularly on the server side. Hewlett-Packard, for example, plans to announce support for the 64-bit version of Windows Server across its ProLiant line of servers.

"It's not quite there on the client," said Greg Sullivan, a lead product manager in Microsoft's Windows unit. Sullivan said that for now, the desktop 64-bit Windows version is likely to appeal mainly to the hardest of the hard-core enthusiasts--people doing video rendering, or game development, for example.

Dell said it will install the 64-bit operating system on its Precision workstation line and on its PowerEdge servers. Orders for the Dell Precision 470 and 670 workstations can be placed starting Monday, while the server OS will be available on Dell systems starting in June, the computer manufacturer said.

While right now it is the game developers that are likely to run 64-bit Windows, the gamers themselves won't be far behind.

"In the Longhorn time frame, we think it (64-bit computing) will be mainstream." Sullivan said. Microsoft has said that Longhorn--the next version of Windows--will come in both 32-bit and 64-bit flavors.

Long and winding road
Although the road to 64-bit Windows has taken longer than Microsoft once hoped, Windows Chief Jim Allchin said in a recent interview that the shift is now inevitable. Intel and AMD aren't charging significantly more for chips with the added abilities, nor is Microsoft charging more for its operating system.

"I see it as preordained," Allchin said. By the end of the year, Allchin said it will be quite difficult to find a server with a 32-bit processor. Desktop PCs will move slower, but 64-bit PCs should make up a significant chunk of shipments by next year.

When computing does make the leap, Allchin said the benefits will be significant, even if many of them are not yet apparent.

The clearest impact of 64-bit computing is the ability to deal with more than 4GB of physical memory. However, only the most sophisticated applications and databases are bumping up against this limit today. Down the road, though, Allchin said whole new ways of computing will open up. Imagine, how fast searching might be if all of one's e-mail, for example, were loaded into memory.

But Allchin said there are performance gains that many types of programs can today get if companies are willing to slightly rewrite their applications. He pointed to Cakewalk, a music program that got a 40 percent gain by moving to a 64-bit system.

There are also ways that Microsoft can use the added bits to enhance security, he said. Specifically, Allchin said Microsoft will make better use of the no-execute chip feature, which helps prevent overflow errors.

"It doesn't make things perfect," Allchin said. But, he added, "it is another way of preventing mischief from taking place."


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Yawn... maybe in 5 years...
MS's 64 bit OS ought to be ready for production use in about 2010 or later. At least after the second or third service pack. Even then you probably still wouldn't want it to touch the internet. Then again, if it uses mulitple CPU's as (in)efficiently as Win 2003 32 bit the extra memory addressability will probably be a complete waste.

Anybody using this hair wad as a server OS needs to have their head examined.
Posted by scdecade (329 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Running from the Tiger?
After years & years of vaporware promises & beta-junk 64Win wannabes, MS finally gets it out for release, even though 64 bit chips are not a new thing in the PC, MAC or UNIX world...

Hmmmmmmmm.... Apple is releasing a new 64 Bit TIGER OSX in four days which it has be "premiering" to developers & public at Conventions for the already existing single & dual 64 bit IBM PowerPC processor Macintosh G5's on the MAC OSX Unix platform...

"coinscidence", Citizen Gates?
Sounds like a cheap game of "CAT" "mouse" from Redmond.

It's also very "coinscidental" that CNET while annoncing the pending release of Mac OSX TIGER, failed to mention that it was a 64 BIT UNIX OS for consumer desktops & servers...

But Citizen Gates finally releases their 64Beta as "public" (not) AND WOW! HISTORY IN THE MAKING WITH 64-BIT OS FOR THE MASSES!
Posted by Llib Setag (951 comments )
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Oh yeah, sixty-four bits
Can't wait for those 64 bit Windumps, viruses and spyware.

I wonder if they can still get all that register info to display on a blue screen of death?
Posted by (56 comments )
Reply Link Flag
XP 64Bit for what?
Its kinda obvious that this release will usher in the release of 64bit procs on new PC's, im just wondering though, what/how will the average PC user benefit from a 64bit Office/IE, etc. Am i to imagine also that no HDD sizes will be 500GB/1TB sizes now, so that we can all have SQL databases to so that we can manage our information? IMHO,this is updating for updating sakes. WINTEL did an excellent job selling people on the proc speed argument and now that it appears we are staring at a 4GHZ ceiling for some time, its on to the next buzz word.
Posted by biggstuu (281 comments )
Reply Link Flag
That Master Innovator Bill Gates Strikes Again
Funny how Cnet has massive headlines for a MS announcement about a 64 bit OS, but barely a whimper is to be heard about Apple's Tiger. I've contributed enough to Mr. Gates and his empire over past few years, so I don't need media cheerleading extoling the genius that is Microsoft.

I recently bought a Mac, and have been impressed. It wasn't what I was expecting. Given the usual media coverage, I expected to boot it up and find myself in LegoLand. Instead, I found a modern OS capable of networking, grid computing, SAN, and security for day one. I'm not getting rid of my PC's mind you, but the experience makes me wonder why Cnet seems to want to represent Apple in a negative light?
Posted by (274 comments )
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Show me the games
Let's be honest. Till we see 64bit games come out there is nothing to shout about. I want more lifelike games and with 64bit and dual cores half life 3 should blow the doors off the world. but this is not happening tomarrow. I welcome the tech, but i know it means very little at this moment.
Posted by Kevin Baron (3 comments )
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Scared tiny cowboy on a virtual bull...
Ever seen those anti-tobacco monopoly ads by "The Truth" at truth.com?

Citizen Gates is the tiny Marlboro Man riding his virtual bull (ShortHorn) around trying to cover his tracks.
Big Tobacco & Microsoft have many things in common:
Both are obsolete relics of the past "cool age".
Both spew cancer, viruses & cause you to crash & burn.
Both have manipulated the government with their billion dollar lobbyist & power plays.
Both have lied to the Government for years about how "safe" their products are.
Both have dug their tenticles deep into the masses & make it very difficult to go "cold turkey".
Both have done whatever it takes (legally or illegally) to keep their monopolies in power & crush the other guys "butts" thereby snuffing them out & keeping their cash flow going from the little people to the corporate fat cats.
MS & Big Tobacco are both cancerous, nip them in the bud or roll your own.
Posted by Llib Setag (951 comments )
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Your ignorance is astounding.
I understand metaphor, I was an english major.
Your comparison is just extremely weak.

As far as switching to a *nix system?
Your average user is not capable of a switch like that... Unless they have a lot of time to learn a system instead of running their business. Most just don't have the time, or technical aptitude in them.
If they were THAT knowledgable, they'd not need to switch. They'd be able to do the minor steps necessary to keep their system running well(scheduled virus-scan, scheduled spyware scan, firewall.. that's it).

It's easy to resort to name-calling and mud slinging when you have nothing to say.

Btw, nice name... might as well be "anonymous"
Posted by (54 comments )
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