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How MS feared Intel would ‘stomp’ on AMD 3D instructions

And how Bill might have traded AMD support for a Java-free Intel

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Microsoft played an unexpected good fairy role in the adoption of AMD's 3DNow! graphics technology. But then Bill Gates went and spoiled it all by suggesting he'd dump the technology if Intel dumped Java. AMD had explained what Microsoft was then describing as "3DX" to Microsoft executives in early 1997, against a background of continuing deterioration in the relationship between Intel and Microsoft. Jim Allchin wrote to Bill Gates and Paul Maritz: "During the meeting we discussed some new instructions that AMD wants us to support called AMD 3DX. The instructions (about 24 new opcodes) are very focused to make games fast." But Allchin is suspicious of Intel: "Intel will want to stomp on whatever instructions they use to hide the 24 new opcodes. They are going to take a currently illegal instruction and encode all 24 instructions within it. And even though AMD will pick an instruction away from the MMX codes giving Intel expansion room (assuming Intel does MMX2), Intel still might decide to 'accidentally' use whatever instruction area they pick to hammer them." Allchin is basically appealing to Gates to use his relationship with Intel's Andy Grove: "It might take a conversation with Andy at some point if Intel does decide to do this. By the way, AMD says they will give everything to Intel without strings so that Intel could support the instructions also." Register digression: The Gates-Grove relationship actually turns out to be one of the more intriguing aspects of the Microsoft trial so far. Although the prosecution seeks to portray Microsoft bullying Intel into doing things, and although Gates does seem pretty ballistic about Intel in a lot of his internal emails, his talks with Andy seem different. After he's had these, he generally reports back to his execs at length, and he's calmer and positively enthusiastic about Intel technology. His decision to give full support to MMX is a case in point, and we can only conclude, well, what an old charmer that Andy Grove is. But back to the story. Supporting Allchin, Mark Kenworthy points to the difficulties associated with having incompatible instruction sets between competing CPUs. "If the average application is directly using these special instructions, I believe there is a significant risk to platform stability, since we have no control over the processor instructions." He's not keen on AMD's plans to get lots of different companies writing, and sees this leading to chaos. Nor is he keen on people using special multimedia instructions inside drivers, as this will "cause us (the OS) [they just can't stop it, can they?] to lose control of the CPU for extended periods of time … Also, the drivers they are supporting … are outside of our DirectX and OpenGL APIs." Instead, Microsoft should use the instructions "inside our OS multimedia components." Microsoft will move to accepting processor-specific optimisations in DirectX 5 and DirectX 6, and will "ship companies like Intel and AMD source to these key inner loop routines for them to optimise." Notice how Kenworthy sees AMD support as an opportunity for Microsoft to extend its control. Where does that pesky line between hardware and software lie, friends? He's already taken on board Intel's moves in the graphics arena, and suspects the company will try to trash the graphics adapter business by moving it all onto the chip. : "AMD could be a valuable ally in keeping competition open in the graphics arena, besides the processor arena." Having seen all this, Gates is basically in agreement, and writes to Allchin and Maritz: "I agree with all of your thoughts here." But there may be circumstances under which AMD won't get the support after all: "If Intel has a real problem with us supporting this they would back off from their work on Java which is terrible for Intel. I have a call with Andy on this topic coming up on Monday." ® Complete Register trial coverage

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