SmartAdvice: Follower Or Pioneer, X64's Time Is Near
Look at what programs you'll be running and how long you expect to keep the hardware when deciding when to start buying 64-bit PCs and servers, The Advisory Council says. Also, vendors are developing self-healing wide-area file services for delivering data on a wide-area network.
Editor's Note: Welcome to SmartAdvice, a weekly column by The Advisory Council (TAC), an advisory service firm. The feature answers two questions of core interest to you, ranging from career advice to enterprise strategies to how to deal with vendors. Submit questions directly to email@example.com
Question A: When should we start buying 64-bit PCs and servers?
Our advice: With the increasingly ready availability of "x64" (32/64-bit, x86-compatible) PCs, servers, and operating systems, it seems to be a question of how soon to start buying 64-bit PCs and servers.
There are four factors to consider:
Whether you're buying PCs or servers;
The applications they will run;
How rapidly you adopt new software; and
How long you expect to keep the hardware.
For as long as there have been servers (even before multiuser, network-accessed computers were called servers), the secret to good performance under heavy loads has been lots of memory. The recommended minimum memory for most modern server software is 512 Mbytes, and servers with several gigabytes are commonplace. Since 64-bit architectures make more effective use of memory larger than 4 Gbytes, most high-end servers have been 64 bit for years. Because memory demands keep growing, and servers are expected to last at least five years, we advise that server purchases, other than for workgroup servers, be 64 bit.
In contrast, very few business desktop applications are going to benefit from 64-bit platforms in the near future. Like high-end servers, high-end workstations for scientific research and computer-aided engineering have been 64-bit for years, and we expect those applications to quickly exploit less-expensive x64 platforms. Multimedia authoring applications also will quickly benefit from x64 platforms. These are the only desktop applications for which we advise immediately adopting 64 bit.
For mainstream business desktops, the last two factors interact. We expect that it will be circa 2009 before mainstream business applications appear which require a 64-bit platform. If you are a "follower" when it comes to deploying software, you might be able to keep 32-bit PCs in productive service until 2013 or beyond. (Almost half of Microsoft Office users are still running Office 2000 or earlier.) As we expect all new PCs to ship with x64 processors by circa 2008, any 32-bit PCs you still have in 2013 would be fully depreciated.
Conversely, if you're a "pioneer" at deploying software, PCs purchased today won't be fully depreciated when 64-bit-only business applications appear. Unless you plan to replace PCs on an aggressive schedule, we would advise that pioneers' next PC purchases be x64. The $100-plus premium for x64 today will be compensated for by avoiding the labor costs of premature upgrades.
Keep in mind that x64 hardware doesn't require an x64 operating system. One of the x64 architecture's benefits is that 32-bit operating systems (e.g., 32-bit Windows XP) run fine on it. Since the Windows x64 versions don't support backward compatibility with 16-bit legacy software, apps that have 16-bit code buried within them may break. Give your software vendors time to address these issues before you deploy Windows x64.
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