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Intel's Nocona to bust out in June

A reply to AMD's Opteron, the chip runs both 32-bit and 64-bit software.

Nocona, Intel's first chip that will run 32-bit and 64-bit software, is expected to debut at the end of June, just within the company's self-imposed second-quarter window. The chip, which was announced in February, could help Intel begin to counter the growing popularity of the Opteron processor from Advanced Micro Devices. Opteron, the first 32/64-bit chip for the server market, came out in April 2003 and has been picked up by IBM, Hewlett-Packard and Sun Microsystems.

Intel would not comment on the chip, but sources close to the company said that a version of Nocona for two-processor servers will come out June 28. Other versions of Nocona are expected to come out later.

Kevin Krewell, editor in chief of the Microprocessor Report, said the chip will likely run at 3.4GHz to 3.6GHz since it is based on the same basic chip as Prescott, a desktop processor that came out in February.

"This is just a slightly better-tested version of Prescott," he said.

Most current Intel and AMD chips can run only 32-bit software, which means they digest data in 32-bit chunks. One of the chief limitations of these chips is that they pull data from just 4GB of memory. That's not a problem in desktops--high-end machines come with only 1GB and likely won't feature 4GB for a few years--but server makers have been complaining about the memory ceiling.

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Until this year, Intel downplayed the need for 32/64-bit chips.

The 32/64-bit functionality of Nocona and Opteron are similar. Tom Halfhill, an analyst at Microprocessor Report, has even asserted that Intel patterned part of its technology after AMD's. Whether Intel borrowed or not, a licensing agreement means the chip giant does not have to pay royalties to its competitor.

Still, the chips aren't identical. Opteron comes with an integrated memory controller and links to other components through so-called HyperTransport links. Together, these features can boost performance by 10 percent to 15 percent, according to AMD.

By contrast, Intel's server chips sport a technology called hyperthreading not found in AMD's chips that allows a processor to run two applications at once.