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Advanced Micro Device’s new 64-bit Athlon chip may well set the market on fire later this year. That’s the take of many VARs and solution providers. But while AMD’s 64-bit Opteron chip for servers is already finding its way into the enterprise, the Athlon desktop market has been slow to catch fire in the enterprises, largely because of a dearth of desktop applications to support it.

Athlon’s greatest appeal remains among power users and engineers needing to crunch large amounts of data and gamers seeking vivid graphics.

Resellers agree what’s crippling the business market right now is a lack of applications and drivers to support the new technology. The 64-bit processors support 32-bit applications but to fully exploit the advantages of the new hardware, customers require new software that supports it.

Microsoft plans to support Athlon in its upcoming release of Windows XP. However, that release has been delayed until later this year.

Support for Opteron is being built into Windows Server 2003; downloads of the beta are available through AMD’s web site.

Click here to download a beta version of Microsoft’s 64-bit Windows Server 2003.

“It’s (Athlon) great technology, but how many people are going to run out and buy all new software to take advantage of it?,” asked Marc Shevick, president of Data1, a Culver City, Calif.-based solutions provider. Shevick notes that although present 32-bit software apps will be compatible with upcoming 64-bit machines, performance won’t be improved unless the apps are 64-bit, too. That’s causing customers to hold back at this point.

The Athlon Roadmap

AMD announced in early January it had begun shipping new versions of its Athlon 64 processor for notebooks, desktops and servers. So far, Hewlett Packard Co. plans to use the processor. Emachines Inc. last year introduced the first laptops powered by the high capacity 64-bit chips.

Hip Lee, general manager of ABS, a solution provider in Whittier, Calif., sees demand for 64-bit desktops growing about as expected, primarily from power users and new technology adopters. However, he believes the market won’t take off until the fourth quarter, when Microsoft-based software applications are expected to hit.

“We are seeing some demand from gaming enthusiasts, a target audience, but we are all waiting for Microsoft to provide an update on its 64-bit computer support, probably in May, ” says Lee. “I think 64-bit computing will be ready for the mainstream by the end of this year.”

AMD believes it’s already there.

AMD’s Program for Solutions Providers

The vendor launched a general, tiered support program last October for solution providers. It doesn’t distinguish, however, between VARs offering 32-bit and 64-bit technologies.

“The AMD 64-bit processor line is a mainstream technology for us,” says Gary Bixler, manager of the system builder channel in North America for AMD. “All our customers are adopting the Athlon 64 as the highest performance line.”

Bixler says AMD is supporting its VARs with training and support tools, as well as market development funds — although none are specifically geared to the Athlon 64. He says AMD’s primary message is that customers who purchase 64-bit systems now are receiving optimum performance from existing technology, as well as positioning themselves for future technology. “That message is resonating very well in the commercial sector,” Bixler notes.

Additionally, he believes market demand will grow dramatically as soon as Microsoft reveals its software upgrade path to the new chip architecture.

Ziff Davis Channel Zone Editor Carol Ellison contributed to this report.