The urge to upgrade your desktop computers to the latest and greatest technology is a strong one. Having the fastest machine on the block is a matter of pride to some people and a practical business requirement to others, although few users need the absolute latest technology to adequately do their jobs.

Although I admit to being a bit of a technology freak, I've personally managed to avoid the latest-and-greatest hardware trap. My primary computer activities don't require a lot of processing power. I only recently moved into the Intel Pentium 4 Processor (P4) world because the digital-editing tools I use really benefited from the performance improvement I achieved over my old, dual-processor 550 MHz Pentium 3 Processor (P3) computer. Nonetheless, few users can get by with antiquated technology, and corporate buyers tend to buy computers just behind the bleeding edge of technology, in an effort to extend the useful life of their systems.

I've been carefully following the progress of the 64-bit version of Windows XP, for the same reason that I eventually bought a new computer: the potential performance improvements for the image and video editing that consumed more of my time. Until recently, though, I wasn't encouraged by what I saw. Development for the 64-bit Intel Itanium processors meant that I'd need to buy new 64-bit applications and that my existing 32-bit apps would run only in an emulation mode, which would likely be slower than they ran on my fast P4 computers.

But a light on the 64-bit horizon has appeared in the form of the AMD64 platform. AMD's 64-bit processor technology extends the Intel x86 processor architecture to a 64-bit model, rather than replacing it completely as Itanium does. The AMD64 platform lets 32-bit applications run natively alongside 64-bit applications and offers performance improvements even to 32-bit apps. AMD currently offers two families of 64-bit processors--the Opteron series for servers and Athlon series for desktops and mobile computers.

Microsoft has acknowledged the importance of the AMD64 innovation and is moving a native 64-bit version of XP to the platform (along with the next version of Microsoft's Server OS), although the AMD64 processors run the 32-bit version of XP exceedingly well.

HP has been shipping AMD64 processor-equipped versions of its product line for some time now and, in fact, provides benchmarks on the HP Web site that show the performance improvements that AMD64 versions of HP's server hardware achieved over otherwise identical Intel-processor-equipped hardware. You can find the HP benchmarks at http://h18004.www1.hp.com/products/servers/benchmarks.

Just as important as the performance gains, however, is the significant protection of your hardware investment that you can achieve by adopting AMD64-powered computers. AMD64 CPUs are shipping for desktops, servers, workstations, and notebooks, all of which run 32-bit OSs. When the 64-bit Windows OSs become available, all of these computers will be upgradeable to the 64-bit OS and will realize any corresponding performance improvements. This upgradeability alone might cut an entire hardware upgrade cycle from the corporate budget, because the introduction of a new OS is often accompanied by a rollout of new hardware that can take advantage of (or is possibly required by) the new OS. For the first time in a long while, hardware will be a step ahead of software in terms of upgrade necessity.

You can find more information about the AMD64 technology at http://www.amd.com/us-en/Processors/ProductInformation/0,,30_118_9331,00.html. If you have any interest in the future of your computing hardware, you should take a look at the AMD64.