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Revolutionary Rumblings Underfoot

Techno-advances set to shake things up By Charlie White
Put your ear next to the digital video editing railroad tracks, and listen along with me. What do you hear? Rumblings. Big, loud, basso-profundo, earth-shaking sounds, telling you that something is coming down the track that's going to shake things up, big time. What is this beast, on its way to rock our world? Read this and find out.

It's the beginning of a revolution, signaling the next era in computing, that's what. When the computing world switched from 8 bit to 16 bit, everything changed. Same thing happened when software and hardware jumped the barrier to 32 bit. But these leaps were painful, and slow. There were lots of software modifications necessary to make it all work.

Now it's time to take the next leap, to the 64-bit world. But this time, it's going to be different. It's going to be a smooth transition this time, because AMD's new Opteron chip, to be rolled out in early April of this year (2003), is backward-compatible with 32 bit software. It's not just going to emulate the 32-bit instruction set., either. It's going to be able to run 32-bit applications faster than the 32 bit chips we use today. So think of it this way -- a highway with twice as many lanes can move twice as many cars, and those same cars can run on these wider roads, even faster than they do on the narrower roads. It's like that with computers, too -- when you have more bandwidth, you can move a lot more data. This is important when you're talking about working with video, particularly high definition video with its tremendous amounts of data.

We've had our ear on those railroad tracks I mentioned earlier for some time now. And what we've heard is remarkable. Intrepid testers and developers of both software and hardware, working with compositing, editing and moving huge amounts of video data, have noticed some exciting things about this new chip and the data paths associated with it. For one, when you port 32-bit mathematical routines over to 64 bit, with this Opteron chip you get an immediate 400 per cent increase in speed. On integer based-operations you get a 400% increase, and on floating point operations you get a 600% increase. Yikes! That's astonishing.

But what does this mean for digital video editors? What we're doing here is floating-point and integer-based intensive, so the new chip will give you more than a 2- to 3x performance boost at the same clock speed (hey, maybe gigahertz don't matter after all -- just kidding). But even better than that, if you take a 32-bit application and run it on the Opteron chip, it'll run 20% faster without any optimization at all. And, you can mix and match 32-bit and 64-bit elements. For example, you can run a 32 bit OS, a 32-bit driver set, and a 32-bit application, all working together in peace and harmony. Or get crazy and run a 32-bit application and 64-bit drivers, all on a 64 bit OS.

But wait! There's more riding on this fast moving train, chugging along at hyper speed on its super-wide track. Multiple processing takes on a whole new meaning with Opteron, because when you add a second processor, unlike with current 32-bit chips, you get a 98 percent speed increase. Add three and that means a 294 percent speed bump. Scalability -- it's a good thing! And, that's all on top of that speedup you get when running 32-bit software on the Opteron.

No wonder Intel has been seen sniffing around the cell-phone chip business lately, that market where brain-dead Motorola gets a big boost to its income when it's not too busy designing secret mass-destruction devices for the US military. Intel, stinging from its pitiful Itanium processor and its limping follow-on, Itanium II, is certainly sweating bullets about now. It's no wonder analysts, shrieking with laughter behind closed doors, are calling the hapless, sinking chips "Itanic." Why are they such a big flop? There are a lot of reasons, but I think the main one is that they aren't backward-compatible with 32-bit applications.

Meanwhile, we're hearing talk on the street from reliable, inside sources that Apple plans to "do something" about that creepy-crawly slow Motorola processor anvil it's been wearing around its neck for the past few years by the end of the summer of this year. If you're still one of the few dreamy-eyed moonies who believes that Mac chips are twice as fast as PCs, this won't mean anything to you. But rest assured, Steve Jobs isn't going to just sit there and let this fire-breathing train leave the station without at least attempting to get on board. He knows as well as any independent-thinking humanoid that those Motorola ties are like a cackling monkey on Apple's back, and is looking for the fastest way out of this morass in which he's been sitting. The tactic of lying to his customers about how his Mac chips are supercomputer-fast isn't going to work any more.

Anyway, my bets are on AMD now. Intel's been getting AMD's goat for the past year or so, but I see that advantage evaporating in a heartbeat, as soon as everyone -- especially those of us in the content creation world -- starts to see just what these new uber-chips can do with software that exists today. And beyond that, all will marvel at what the things can chew through when the software is optimized for 64-bit computing. With HDTV breathing heavily down our necks, it looks like this bullet train will be pulling into the station right on time. All aboard!

Charlie White, your humble storytellerDigital Media Net Executive Producer Charlie White has been writing about new media and digital video since it was the laughingstock of the television industry. A technology journalist and columnist for the past nine years, White is also an Emmy-winning producer, video editor, broadcast industry consultant and shot-calling television director who has worked in broadcasting since 1974. Talk back -- Send Chazz a note at cwhite@digitalmedianet.com.

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Related Keywords:Charlie White, editorial, Opteron, AMD, Apple, Motorola, 32-bit, 64 bit, 64-bit, data, MAC

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