In the seemingly never-ending wait for a final version of 64bit MS Windows to hit the streets, the only recourse for those who want a stable and reliable 64bit operating system on their desktop is Linux (or Apple's OS X, if x86 isn't a prerequisite). While support for x86-64 under Linux is solid, neither 32bit nor 64bit Linux can run the vast majority of computer games on the market, and many die-hard Linux fans still use a dual boot set-up in order to get their gaming fix. The hope for gamers and 64bit (fortunately or not) lies in the 64bit version of Windows.

Recently, ATI released a beta version of their 64bit Catalyst drivers, and we spent some time playing around with various hardware and games on this new platform. There is some good, and there is some bad (as is always the case), but it is definitely a good thing that ATI has joined NVIDIA in the 64bit public beta department. The more testing that can get done on these drivers before their release, the smoother the transition should be when final versions of everything become available.

What we eventually expect to see when running 32bit games under a 64bit OS is a slight improvement in performance, but nothing to write home about. The main reason for this is the availability of extra resources to the operating system and drivers running on the system. The increased availability of registers and other enhancements of x86-64 will provide the operating system with a slightly more efficient means of managing processes and resources. Drivers will also have this added benefit when bridging the gap between software and hardware. The 32bit software is still limited by what it percieves as the limitations of the hardware, so it won't be able to really take hold of the possibilities for performance improvement.

Until 64bit versions of the software that we know (and love) will come along, we won't be able to tell what the true benefit of the once again reworked architecture will be. But for the purposes of this review, we want to see equivalent or slightly improved performance. This will tell us whether or not Microsoft is on track with WoW, and how far along the ATI and NVIDIA driver teams are in producing a solid 64bit product.

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  • Flerbizky - Friday, June 18, 2004 - link

    And where's the 64bit Far Cry part of the article ?... That could've been quite interesting as well..

  • TrogdorJW - Thursday, June 17, 2004 - link

    19: That's the whole point: WoW is an interface that allows for 32-bit applications to run on the 64-bit OS. AMD64 supports a mode where 32-bit applications are run concurrently with 64-bit applications under a 64-bit OS, but you still need to have the 32-bit interface that the old applications understand, and that interface then ties into the 64-bit OS.

    I'm not sure what Pjotr is thinking when he says that you can run 32-bit drivers under 64-bit Linux, though. In my experience with Linux, you need to compile practically every driver/application/utility to get it to work, which of course gives you 64-bit drivers under 64-bit Linux and 32-bit drivers under 32-bit Linux. It's just like Windows: the drives and the OS need to be 64-bit, while you can have a compatibility interface to run 32-bit applications.
  • glennpratt - Thursday, June 17, 2004 - link

    Pjotr: I didn't think you could run 32bit software while running within a 64bit OS (which would be using the processors long mode). If plain 32bit software could be run without WOW, why would M$ be making it?
  • araczynski - Thursday, June 17, 2004 - link

    My only point is that (in my opinion) until EVERYthing is out of beta, any performance data that comes out is completely worthless/meaningless especially in a field as finacky as graphics performance.

    As such, deducing ANYthing from worthless data is in turn, itself worthless and futile.
  • Pjotr - Thursday, June 17, 2004 - link

    The Linux distros have not all come as far. Some are better at AMD64 than others.
    AMD64 also allows direct hardware 32 bit execution, unlike the WoW, so you can run 32 bit drivers in an AMD64 64 bit OS.
  • Shinei - Thursday, June 17, 2004 - link

    Anemone, these are beta drivers, you have to expect the performance to not be as spectacular as the stuff the companies already know (x86-32). And we also have to consider that these results are using yesterday's cards; 64-bit NV40 and R420 should be a great deal more satisfying, especially if paired up with improved drivers. I imagine that nVidia's driver team experience will produce something approaching x86-32 performance by the time XP64 is ready to roll, with ATI pushing out its final beta around the same time; but, what do I know about programming, I just play the games and moan when they don't work right. ;)
  • Anemone - Wednesday, June 16, 2004 - link

    Looks like there is a lot of improvement before they are going to impress gamers...
  • TrogdorJW - Wednesday, June 16, 2004 - link

    At the risk of engaging the wrath of all the Linux fanboys out there, let's just point out that running the latest 64-bit Linux distros right now is perhaps even worse than XP-64 beta in many areas. Sound support is severely lacking, as is 3D accelerated graphics support. Text mode and unaccelerated X work fine, although they don't show massive performance boosts. Still, with sound and graphics support being a difficult proposition for all but the best Linux hackers, 32-bit is still the way to go.

    This, by the way, is based off of personal experience with trying to run Linux on an Athlon 64 3000+ system. 32-bit Linux is running happily now, although with the 2.6 kernel I still can't get Nvidia's drivers to work. I'll try 64-bit Linux again in about three or four months, I think.
  • glennpratt - Wednesday, June 16, 2004 - link

    And WOW is nothing new just so you know. If you run a 16bit app in 32 bit Windows XP you will see WOW in your process lists with programs running in it tabbed out a space.
  • Cygni - Wednesday, June 16, 2004 - link

    The differences between Nvidia and ATI arch when computing 64bit wont really be known until we have 64bit games to look into.

    WoW = Windows on Windows. Think of it as a 32bit emulator. Since Win64 its a native 64bit OS, WoW allows you to run 32bit programs by wrapping or emulating the 32bit calls made by the program into 64bit calls for the OS to understand.

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