Vendors who have been calling tablets 'the new PCs' can now prove it. The development of 64-bit mobile processors opens the door for more addressable memory and PC-like performance on tablets and smartphones.
Intel Monday unveiled a 64-bit Atom processor designed for Android smartphones and tablets, and with it Intel President Renee James made a simple but pregnant point: "Sixty-four bit computing is moving from the desktop to the mobile device."
In her statement, James didn't explain exactly what the movement of 64-bit chip technology from PCs to mobile devices will bring. For instance, will applications that today are only used on personal computers eventually find their way to tablets and smartphones thanks to 64-bit technology?
The reason to go to a 64-bit architecture is to add lots of memory -- moving from a 32-bit to a 64-bit system increases the total addressable space from 4GB to many exabytes.
Mobile platforms today typically have one or 2GB of RAM, although the Samsung Galaxy Note boasts 3GB. HP's ElitePad 1000, announced Monday at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, runs Intel's new 64-bit Atom and has 4GB of RAM.
Nathan Brookwood, principal analyst at Insight 64, said the arrival of 64-bit mobile computing "is going to enable software that is as sophisticated and powerful as the stuff running on your notebook computers."
There are problems bringing complex applications to mobile systems, said Brookwood, one being the limited amount of screen real estate and the constraints that puts on a user interface. But still, it means that application vendors with multiple platform strategies can design everything for 64-bit, he said.
The push to 64-bit in the mobile world began when Apple released a 64-bit ARM-based dual core processor last year in its iPhone 5s.
Intel's new dual core 64-bit Atom chip, also announced at this week's Mobile World Congress, will be followed later this year with a quad core.
PC operating systems, such as Microsoft Vista, once shipped with a basement minimum of 512MB of RAM for a 32-bit version, although vendors said the ideal configuration was 2GB. Today, many PCs ship with 6, 8 or 12 GBs of RAM as a standard configuration.
It will take time for application developers to move to the 64-bit world, but quad core, eight core chips and beyond will help mobile systems run multiple apps, said Brookwood. For example, a healthcare monitor could be run in the background using the technology, he added.
Brookwood believes that as memory prices decline, and software complexity goes up, "people are going to want tablets and smartphones with 6 to 8 GB of memory," he said.
Patrick Thibodeau covers SaaS and enterprise applications, outsourcing, government IT policies, data centers and IT workforce issues for Computerworld. Follow Patrick on Twitter at @DCgov, or subscribe to Patrick's RSS feed . His email address is email@example.com.