You may have heard quite a bit recently about a new processor from AMD that is coming out code named SledgeHammer. The SledgeHammer is AMD's step into the high-end server market that will compete with the likes of processors like Alpha and the Intel Itanium. The main difference, SledgeHammer (AKA "Hammer") will support 64-bit processing and 64-bit applications. We'll go more into this within the article, but let me continue explaining some background information.
64-bit architecture will be used mainly for high performance servers, database management systems, and CAD tools. Current processors use x86 architecture that was originally brought into the market over 20 years ago, the only difference is that now 32-bit x86 architecture is used. 64-bit architecture will most likely not be used for the average user now, nor for many years to come. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if we're still using 32-bit architecture 10-20 years from now, but slowly we'll all be making the switch over.
Now within this article I will just be explaining AMD's x86-64 technology rather than compare the differences with Intel's IA-64 technology because I will explain that in a separate article, as well as another article on the comparison of both.
Also, the SledgeHammer processor should be announced by the end of 2001, and even though Intel is planning on releasing their Itanium (Codename: Merced) processor this year, we won't see it available in much places until about the same time AMD releases theirs. So the competition will be fierce, and this as well as the other articles should clear up what each technology does, and help you decide which is right for you (considering you need it) as each has its benefits and disadvantages.