Microsoft has recently released yet another public beta of the 64-bit version of Windows XP. Strange, as AMD initially planned to have its launch coincide with the launch of the Athlon-64 processor back in September. Unfortunately for AMD, Microsoft didnít play ball and left AMD hanging with a 64-bit capable processor and no operating system to use it with. The public beta that has just been released does show us one thing; Microsoft didnít completely abandon the development of an x86 based 64-bit operating system. But in reality the beta is a far cry from anything thatís ready for launch anytime soon. Hardware support is the most pressing issue, as all drivers included with this new version of Windows need to be rewritten in a 64-bit format. Although Microsoft usually includes a fair number of drivers that make popular hardware work right out of the box, this time the support is meager at best.
Fig 1. AMD's 64-bit Athlon 64 processor, waiting for the final release of a 64-bit Windows XP.
In fact the 64-bit driver requirement is the biggest problem Microsoft and AMD are faced with, as for every piece of hardware to work, also older and exotic hardware, there has to be a 64-bit driver available. In reality weíre looking at a classic supply and demand scenario. If AMD would sell more Athlon-64 processors, more consumers who bought them would ask for a 64-bit version of Windows XP and driver support for the hardware they already own. On the other hand, just because thereís no final 64-bit version of Windows XP out yet, sales of AMDís Athlon-64 processor arenít as good as they would be with the software base covered. Thus other hardware vendors arenít really trying hard to release 64-bit drivers for their products. Unofficially Microsoft in targeting a September launch for the 64-bit Windows XP, letís hope, for AMDís sake, that by that time all noses are pointing in the same direction and everything is in place to unlock the full potential of the Athlon-64. For now, 64-bit computing on the desktop is nothing but a mirage, albeit a good one.