John Chamberlain
Developer Diary
 Developer Diary · You Heard It Here First · Saturday 17 January 2004
64-Bit Cranks Computing
The profilerating products with 64-bit processors are cranking up high-end systems to a new level of computing. This new breed of hardware is cheaper, faster and more nimble than its predecessors. The key factor is the ability of a single processor to access gigabytes of memory. In November I wrote about this phenomenon in the Developer Diary article The Multi-Gig Memory Potential Behind 64-bit Computing. Sure there were 64-bit systems like the Alpha 10 years ago, but they were expensive and more importantly memory was so much more expensive back then that having gigabytes in a single machine was not practical.

With the ability to load and manipulate huge amounts of memory synchronously a whole new class of applications is possible. One of the areas this is affecting is storage systems. For example, late yesterday the Register posted a story on Storage Computer's new petabyte clustered NAS based on the Opteron architecture. For run-of-the-mill RAID integrators like this to be putting out what was two years ago strictly big iron is an indication that we are entering a new phase of computing in which the average person will have vast silicon power at their fingertips.

Currently airline reservation mainframe systems occupy entire rooms. Imagine being able to host one on your desktop. Video editing and storage will become trivial. Databases that are now nearly inaccessible will hop onto the web. Instead of having to order CDs to get research data scientists will be able to download it at will. Your doctor won't have to describe an operation, it will be on screen in 3D. Three-dimensional interfaces will become commonplace. Virtual reality games will really turn into virtual reality. When you shift from accessing <2 gigabytes of memory to hundreds of gigabytes these are the possibilities.

I feel inadequate typing away here on a 300 MHz machine with 300M of RAM. I guess it's time to upgrade.

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