Today, Microsoft announced that the company is extending the 64-bit version of Windows XP to support AMD's new 64-bit microprocessor architecture, the AMD Athlon 64 (AMD64), and is publicly releasing a beta version of the OS. Windows XP 64-Bit Edition for 64-Bit Extended Systems will run natively on AMD's Athlon 64 and Opteron processors, which support full 64-bit capabilities as well as full-speed backward compatibility with 32-bit Intel x86-based chips, a feature Intel's 64-bit Itanium chips lack. AMD is launching the Athlon 64, a desktop and notebook chip, today. The other member of the AMD64 platform, the AMD Opteron, supports workstations and servers, AMD says.
   "This new 64 bit-Windows platform provides customers with new levels of compatibility and capability," a Microsoft representative told me late yesterday. "Customers who invest in 64-bit technology with the AMD Athlon 64 or AMD Opteron processors can run their current 32-bit applications on the 64-bit OS due to Microsoft's Windows on Windows 64 (WOW64) emulation technology. The WOW64 architecture takes advantage of AMD's hardware architecture to ensure compatibility with 32-bit applications without a loss of performance, protecting customers' current and future technology investments."
   XP 64-Bit Edition for 64-Bit Extended Systems, like the AMD64 systems on which it will run, is designed for high-performance computing scenarios, such as advanced gaming, digital-content creation, video editing, engineering and scientific projects, financial services, online transaction processing, data warehousing, and CAD. Because they support a 64-bit address space, systems based on these processors can use more than the 4GB of RAM to which 32-bit systems are limited. But because AMD64 systems are also fully compatible with the 32-bit systems of the past, users can still run popular applications such as Microsoft Office at full speed.
   "Windows XP and AMD64 hold the promise of bringing 64-bit computing to a whole new set of computer users, delivering immersive, cinema-quality user experiences for gaming and working with digital media," said Dirk Meyer, senior vice president of the Computation Products Group at AMD. "AMD and Microsoft have worked together to help ensure customers will be able to run both 32-bit and 64-bit applications on a single platform. They are able to invest in the future now."
   XP 64-Bit Edition for 64-Bit Extended Systems is available now to Microsoft Developer Network (MSDN) subscribers; Microsoft expects to release the final version of the product in the first half of 2004. In addition, the company says it will finalize Windows Server 2003 64-Bit Edition for 64-Bit Extended Systems in the first half of 2004; this version supports the Opteron processor and is also available now in beta form.