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Intel Admits Interest In 64-Bit Technology

Intel CEO Craig Barrett officially reversed his company’s long-standing stance that 64-bit computer processors have no place in consumer PCs, with the announcement on Feb. 17 that Intel will introduce the architecture into its chips in the second quarter.

In other news Intel announced earlier this month that it possibly could greatly increase the speed of its processors through the use of fiber-optic technology.

Intel had been denying any interest in rolling out a 64-bit processor for use outside enterprise-level computers, as late as last month. This despite AMD introduction of a 64-bit processor that has already been picked up by entry-level PC vendor eMachines for use in a new notebook computer. Intel already uses 64-bit technology in its Itanium high-end server chip line, but had expressed no interest in migrating this further down its product line.

Barrett said at the Intel Developers Forum, held here last week, that Intel will introduce a 64-bit memory extension to its Xeon server and workstation processors. Both are used in small businesses, enabling them to run newer 64-bit-enabled software along with the embedded 32-bit variety. Barrett did not say when its Pentium consumer level processors would be upgraded.

Microsoft is expected to launch a 64-bit version of its Windows operating system later this year.

In an unrelated announcement Intel researchers reported earlier this month the development of a method called photonic technology that uses fiber-optics to potentially deliver data streams at tremendously fast speeds for little additional cost.

The photonic technology could be used to replace the conventional connections between PCs, servers and peripherals and eventually, inside the computer’s processor, resulting in data being moved around at 50 times its current silicon-based speed. The process takes a standard data stream of ones and zeroes and converts it to light, enabling the information to travel at the speed of light. Once the trip is completed the data is converted back.

Intel hopes the photonic modulator, which would handle the conversion to light process, can be made out of silicon, a company spokesman said.

The model now being tested by Intel shoots data along at 1GHz, but Intel believes this can be quickly scaled up to 10GHz. The real increase in speed will come from ganging several of these data streams together. In addition, fiber-optic cable does not suffer from electromagnetic interference, which slows transmission rates in traditional copper connections, the company said.

No time frame was announced for when photonic technology might be used in commercially available computers.