Hammer time for AMD

In a hotel conference room just blocks from the Intel Developer's Forum, Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) here on Tuesday gave the first public demonstration of its Hammer processor, a 64-bit chip designed to compete head-to-head with Intel Corp.'s high-end chips.

Set to begin shipping by the end of the year, AMD's Hammer is a processor based on the classic Intel x86 computer system architecture. This makes the chip able to run both 32-bit applications supported on processors such as AMD's Athlon or Intel's Pentium 4, as well as more compute-intensive 64-bit applications, according to Mark Bode, the division marketing manager for AMD, in Austin, Texas.

Running 64-bit applications on Intel architecture requires a separate Intel chip family, called Itanium.

Hammer also makes it easier for PC makers and other system integrators to build computers around it, as its x86 architecture can be designed into systems the same way most 32-bit chips are, said Bode.

AMD demonstrated Hammer running a 64-bit Linux operating system and both a 32-bit and a 64-bit screen saver-type application side by side, at the same time.

Hammer is also one of the first AMD chips to offer AMD's HyperTransport technology, a high-speed I/O interconnect technology designed to improve performance and compete against similar technology for Intel's chips, called 3GIO, said Bode. HyperTransport is designed to perform about 12 times faster than PCI-X I/O technology, and 10 times faster than a four-channel Infiniband interconnect, according to AMD.

SOI (silicon on insulator) technology incorporated into Hammer also makes the chip easier to cool than Intel's Itanium processors, Bode said.

A new AMD-8000 series of chips sets will arrive later this year to support Hammer. Three different 8000 series chips sets will be available, each for a different Hammer implementation, be it in a PC, workstation, server, or other device, said Bode.

The AMD-8151 chip set is for desktop systems and workstations and delivers an AGP 3.0-compliant graphics tunnel with one to eight times data transfer speed modes. The AMD-8131 is designed for servers, and thus lacks the graphics capabilities of its sister chip set. And the AMD-8111 is a general purpose I/O hub for connecting to USB (Universal Serial Bus) ports, PCI (Peripheral Component Interconnect) buses, and other peripheral connections.

Unlike Intel's 64-bit Itanium processor, which Intel executives admit will only attract a small group of ultra-high-end customers in its first few manufacturing generations, Bode said AMD is looking at its 64-bit Hammer as the future of all its processors, from models designed for use in laptop computers all the way to high-end supercomputing systems.

"Instead of selling hundreds or thousands of chips [like Intel expects to do with Itanium], we are looking at selling millions of Hammer chips per year with an established base in the market," said Bode.

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