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But what will 64-bit computing mean for the masses? It's really hard to say right now, but judging from the interest from both OS and software developers it looks like being the big thing in 2005, as long as Microsoft gets Windows XP 64-bit ready soon. There are already some applications out that works natively on the 64-bit release candidate of Windows XP 64-bit. Although finding something that can be used as a benchmark proved tricky and the only application we could track down with a built in benchmark was Pov-ray 64-bit.

A 64-bit patch for Far Cry should however be out in the near future, but this is in partnership with AMD, so how well this will work in the Intel platform we won’t know until it is released. There is already a 64-bit version of Unreal Tournament 2004 out, but only for servers. Hopefully a playable version will be out as soon as Windows XP 64-bit launches. Shadow Ops: Red Mercury is another game that has just been released with 64-bit support out of the box.

Now this might not sound too promising, but I have no doubt that by the end of this year – assuming that Microsoft gets Windows XP 64-bit out before the summer – there should be plenty of applications and games available.

I haven’t mentioned Linux so far and the Redhat and SuSE distributions are available in 64-bit but Linux is still not a popular desktop OS.

However, for those who have the time, knowledge and energy to devote to it, it is a viable alternative to Windows and there many applications available for 64-bit Linux. But if we are to believe what AMD claimed a couple of years ago, it shouldn’t be hard to port any software to a 64-bit Windows XP platform that runs on the 32-bit Windows XP platform. No doubt we’ll find out if this is true in due time.

Before I move on to the benchmarks, let’s have a brief look at what the Enhanced Intel SpeedStep technology brings to the new processors. Although the Pentium 4 is likely to disappear from the mobile market this year, SpeedStep technology is still valid, especially with small form factor PCs becoming increasingly popular.

The first version of SpeedStep slowed processors down quite dramatically when enabled, which often severely limited performance. By contrast, the enhanced version of SpeedStep dynamically adjusts the speed of the processor in small increments based on CPU load, maximising performance at all times.

This is very similar to AMDs Cool’n’Quiet technology but the new Intel processors won’t slow down beyond 2.8GHz whereas the Athlon 64 processors can go as low as 800MHz.

The advantage of reducing clock speeds when there is a small load on the CPU is lower power consumption as well as a quieter running CPU cooler due to less heat being produced. The Extreme Edition processor lacks support for the enhanced version of SpeedStep. The reasoning behind this I presume is that the Extreme Edition is for gamers who will want to go at pedal to the metal at all times.

As I mentioned earlier, we only managed to source one 64-bit benchmark and that is POV-Ray (Persistence of Vision Ray-Tracer). POV-Ray is a free ray tracing application which can be downloaded from POV-Ray’s website and is available in 32-bit and 64-bit versions, making it a useful tool for indicating the performance difference of the new Intel processors.

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