"Introducing AMD AthlonTM 64 FX-51 Processor - Simply the Best PC Processor. Period." - www.amd.com

Does your processor run at 64 bits? No, I didn't think so. However it soon will, at least AMD hopes it will. The big question is, does it need to?

The Athlon 64 is the latest and greatest desktop processor from Advanced Micro Devices. The biggest feature on this processor is the ability to run in either 32 or 64 bit mode using the newly defined x86-64 ISA, also called AMD64. This means that it can run like a normal processor and run all your x86 compiled apps, or you can install a 64bit OS and get some 64bit apps and try to take advantage of the extra processing capability. To top it off the processor is very quick, it has an integrated memory controller (usually on the Northbridge), and HyperTransport controllers to allow for easy multi-processor integration. To top it off this processor performs well enough to give Intel a bit of a scare. The recently introduced Pentium 4 Extreme Edition seems to be targeted to counter the release of the Athlon 64.

64 Bits - Real or Malarky?
Does your system need to run on a 64 bit processor? No. Not really. The main use for 64 bits is that it allows for a much larger memory area. With 32 bits you can address 4GB of memory, however with 64 bits you can address roughly 16 million terabytes of memory, basically as much as you need. This is crucial for large servers and corporate machines that need to access obscene amounts of information, but how many desktops have more than 4GB of memory? Few.

The other benefit is that the processor can work on more data at the same time, and it is easier for it to move more data around in one clock cycle. It is worth mentioning, however, that this is of the most benefit with floating point calculations and most processors already have the ability to work with 64 bit floating point operations. This will speed up intensive integer calculations and make it easier to work with larger numbers. The flexibility of the Athlon 64 is that you can run 32 bit for now and have the flexibility to migrate to 64 bits later at your own discretion.

Intel would have loved to move to 64 bits a lot earlier, however timing is everything and AMD has pulled it off masterfully. Operating systems and applications need to be rewritten to support 64 bit and making that transition is difficult. Intel moved to 64 bit for its Itanium line of high performance workstation processors a few years ago. It remains to be seen if Intel will adapt AMD's new language or try to move the IA64 (Itanium's 64bit ISA) to the desktop space.

Initial Specs
Clock Speed - 2.2Ghz
Process - .13u SOI
# Transistors - 105.9million
Voltage - 1.55V
Address space - 1024 GB (40Bit)
L1 Cache - 64/64 KB
L2 Cache - 1MB

Things to note: Only 40 of the possible 64 bits are used for memory addressing. The specs for future generations of Athlon 64's will no doubt improve over time.

The Athlon 64 FX-51 3200+ initially sold for $417 on release which puts it significantly cheaper than the top of the line Intel product. This could really be the Holy Grail that AMD needs it to be. AMD is not nearly as large of a company as Intel and they took a big risk putting all the development time and work into this new processor. While they were developing the Ahtlon 64 the Athlon (the earlier generation processor) was being somewhat neglected giving Intel the processor lead that AMD briefly stole.

The Athlon 64 is an adaptation of the server processor named Opteron. Opteron and Athlon 64 are essentially the same processor except for price and a few features important to high end servers. The internal codenames AMD used were SledgeHammer for the Opteron, and Clawhammer for the Athlon 64. Opteron also has the integrated Memory Controller, HyperTransport bus, and AMD64 support (see Opteron for more information).

AMD should see some significantly increased sales with this processor and the enthusiasts will love it for its performance alone. The question remains, is the market ready for 64 bit? Only the future will tell.