AMD's first 64-bit processor, code-named Sledgehammer, has inched closer to reality after the company released the chip's instruction set manual to software developers late last week.
The broad release of the "AMD x86-64 Architecture Programmers Overview" gives software designers a closer look at Sledgehammer's inner workings. The company expects to ship the 64-bit processor late next year, initially for servers and workstations. It won't find its way into mainstream desktop systems for years.
At present, 64-bit processing exists only in high-end hardware such as Compaq Computer's Alpha-based systems. Relatively few applications can take advantage of the greater data-processing capabilities 64-bit represents.
However, AMD, Intel and Microsoft are all working on 64-bit products. Software designers are expected to follow suit and tailor tomorrow's applications to take advantage of the chip's wider data paths, which means greater processing power. AMD expects initial 64-bit applications to support digital content creation, security and encryption services, and complex simulations such as weather prediction.
The chip is AMD's direct response to the Intel Itanium chip, a 64-bit processor that's expected to debut in high-end servers and workstations by early 2001.
Today's mainstream processors - AMD's Athlon and Intel's Pentium III and upcoming Pentium 4 - are 32-bit processors. Current operating systems and applications are also 32-bit.