Editor's Window31 Aug, 2005 By: Sara Ferris
Not Just for Servers: Software starts to catch up with 64-bit processors
When AMD introduced its athlon 64-bit processor in late 2003, it seemed like the guest who shows up several hours too early for the party. AMD's decision to also provide 32-bit support proved wise, because only Linux and UNIX-based applications were able to tap its 64-bit powers. Slowly, software is catching up to the potential of today's hardware technology. Intel's Pentium processor is now available with EM64T technology that enables it, too, to run both 32- and 64-bit applications.
Once Microsoft launched its Windows XP 64-bit edition, a prerequisite to running Windows-based 64-bit applications, application developers started to implement 64-bit support. As you'd expect, in the CAD world developers with a UNIX heritage were first out the door, with PTC leading the way with a version of its Pro/ENGINEER Wildfire product.
Recently, UGS and SolidWorks both announced plans for 64-bit support in the next versions of their products. The Unigraphics announcement is particularly significant because it embraces the Parasolid modeling kernel as well as UGS' own CAD products. That should make it easier for those vendors (like SolidWorks) that use the Parasolid kernel to add 64-bit capability.
Still, this is a big undertaking for developers, so don't be surprised if your applications of choice are slow to become availabe in 64-bit versions. The transition could take several years, and some applications may not make the leap at all. Many CAD applications have yet to take advantage of dual processors by multithreading, even though dual-processor workstations have been commonplace for many years now.
What's the big deal about 64 bits? Besides doubling the data processed per clock cycle, such processors remove the 4MB memory lid imposed by 32-bit systems, which might not mean much when you're answering e-mail but can have a noticeable effect when you're manipulating large assemblies or running analyses. BIM (building information modeling) applications also would likely benefit. But perhaps the biggest gains down the road will come from the additional capabilities that developers can build into their software without worry that performance will suffer.
Though there's no need to rush out and buy a new 64-bit workstation, those of you who need to upgrade should certainly consider one, regardess of whether your applications are available in 64-bit flavor. You'll likely be able to take advantage of its capabilities well before it's time to upgrade again.