Windows 64-bit Editions Released

In April, Microsoft announced Windows XP x64 Edition (XP64) and its counterpart for Windows Server 2003. Designed for AMD Athlon64 CPUs and Intel CPUs with Athlon64-compatible Extended Memory 64 Technology (EM64T), these 64-bit software upgrades promise a speed boost for CPU-intensive applications and memory-hungry server programs. However even though Microsoft is giving away Windows XP x64 as a free upgrade for computers with Windows XP Professional, most users should hold off upgrading for a while.

For one thing, XP64 will not run any 32-bit device drivers or low-level utilities such as antivirus and third-party firewall programs. It will not run older 16-bit Windows or DOS programs. Also the "upgrade" will only install on a blank hard drive. Microsoft itself admits that only users that are "pushing the boundaries" of 32-bit Windows versions will benefit from upgrading.

The benefits? A 32-bit CPU is limited to 4 GB of memory; XP64 is currently limited to 16 TB (terabytes) of addressable memory and 128 GB of RAM, with room to grow one million times more than that amount. Applications compiled as 64-bit programs can move more data around with each instruction. The result is that server applications and programs such as 3D games, video editing, and the like will tend to see a speed increase.

By and large Windows XP x64 Edition will look and behave very similarly to Windows XP with Service Pack 2. However, users should make sure all their current programs and hardware is supported before trying to upgrade.

As we went to press, Microsoft confirmed they intend to release a 64-bit version of Office 12 (the successor to Office 2003) "sometime after" the 32-bit version is released in 2006.

May 2005

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