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A Conservative Approach To Chips

Businesses are more interested in utilization and stability than buying the latest and fastest
"It used to be that the customer had to load new drivers each time a chip vendor and hardware manufacturer came out with a new platform," Brookwood says.

"Every time something changes with the chipset that requires an image change, it costs us money," says Gary Rubin, manager of desktop services for Northeast Utilities Service Co., which supplies electric and gas service to about 2 million New England customers. "We have to devote an engineer or multiple engineers to redo the image and then test the image."

Northeast Utilities has deployed more than 700 HP D315 PCs since late last year. With the D325's introduction, Northeast can now buy the newer model without creating additional work for Rubin's team. The utility plans to roll out 2,000 AMD-based HP PCs over the next 18 months, a move it says will save about $1 million of the cost of a comparable Intel-based platform.

"The same image will work on both PC models," Rubin says. "This saves us approximately 80 man-hours worth of work that we would have to do to upgrade the image."

That's not to say that the major chipmakers have abandoned innovation. AMD in September is scheduled to deliver Athlon 64, a 64-bit processor that will run inside desktops and notebooks and also be compatible with 32-bit apps. The Athlon 64's target audience will be designers and graphic artists. While Intel's desktop-processor strategy has been to offer faster clock speed and multithreading, AMD is pushing 64-bit addressing and packing an increased amount of data into the system's DRAM.

Intel is moving forward on several fronts. One is the development of new chip-manufacturing processes, moving from 90 nanometers this year to 65 nanometers in 2005. Intel's biggest thrust will be behind its wireless technology, which will include a 90-nanometer mobile CPU later this year, Centrino support beginning in 2004 for 802.11 a/b/g, and products in 2004 that support WiMAX broadband wireless access.

At Intel's spring analyst meeting last month, president and chief operating officer Paul Otellini predicted the number of Centrino-based mobile devices would more than double from 2003 to 2004. Intel anticipates that more than 27,000 wireless access points will be added to the global infrastructure daily. Intel also expects steady growth in the use of 64-bit Itanium chips beyond the high-performance computing settings where they initially have been popular.

Itanium will gain ground but not quickly, says Simplot's Adams. The migration of commodity servers to 64-bit will happen, he says, but "it's a matter of time."

Illustration by Claudia Newell