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64-bit Windows Booting, Running on Merced Prototype

A 64-bit Windows operating system is booting and running on an engineering prototype of Intel Corp.’s 64-bit Merced chip, Microsoft Corp. and Intel announced today.

The companies demonstrated the system at the Intel Developers Forum in Palm Springs, Calif., where the announcement was made.

Microsoft’s 64-bit operating system and Intel’s 64-bit processor are scheduled for availability sometime in the middle of next year, according to the companies. Microsoft also plans to release select developer tools and BackOffice applications in that timeframe.

Both companies call the development feat a significant milestone in the development of a complete IA-64 architecture. The same can be said for the companies’ enterprise strategies. Intel and Microsoft are each campaigning for a greater presence in enterprise computing. Many of the Unix systems that compete in that target market have been at 64-bits for some time.

A 32-bit system, such as the current Windows NT or the upcoming release of Windows 2000, can address up to 4 GB of memory. Intel’s Physical Address Extensions (PAE), which will be supported in Windows 2000 Datacenter Server, bring that up to 36-bits, or 64 GB of addressable memory. But a 64-bit system may theoretically address exabytes of memory, a limitless amount by today’s standards.

The successful boot-up and operation on the Merced prototype has extra significance for Microsoft now that the x86 platform is the only one it supports. Windows NT 4.0 runs on x86 processors, such as Intel’s, and Alpha systems developed by Digital Equipment Corp., which was bought by Compaq Computer Corp. But Compaq and Microsoft last week revealed that the companies would no longer develop for the Windows NT/2000 on Alpha platform.

Because Alpha uses a 64-bit processor, it has played a central role in Microsoft’s development of 64-bit Windows. Microsoft plans to phase out development work on Alpha as Merced systems become more widely available. -- Scott Bekker

About the Author

Scott Bekker is editor in chief of Redmond Channel Partner magazine.

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