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AMD's Sledgehammer gets first OS pledge

SuSE floats the iceberg #1 at Itanic

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LinuxWorld AMD's Sledgehammer chip looks like it has hit the ground running. Only five days after publishing the instruction set for the new 64-bit processor, SuSE has announced that it has the GNU gcc compiler and some basic parts of the toolchain ready for x86-64, and similar announcements are expected from the other Linux distros at LinuxWorld this week.

Chimpzilla also indicated that it would throw open the official Web site for Sledgehammer developers today, although right now, it's still password protected.

The compiler work was carried out by Mark Mitchell of gcc experts CodeSourcery and SuSE's Jan Hubicka and Andreas Jaeger. It's pretty early days though - AMD hasn't officially made the software simulator available yet according to Bob Mitton, a division manager for AMD's enterprise computing products group. That should ship within the month, he tells us.

Sledgehammer promises developers a far smoother upgrade path than Itanic, which is Intel's first new instruction set (disregarding its little i860/960 Risc adventure) for fifteen years. Most software developers will be able to recompile directly, or with the addition of a new compiler switch.

We asked Mitton what marketing budget was being stashed away to promote x86-64 to developers. "We'll talk with individuals for now," was the reply. "But we don't have to spend nearly what Intel has to spend - because we don't have to reinvent the whole world. You don't have to relearn the debugger, relearn the toolset, relearn tuning or relearn how to deploy the applications."

AMD is developing a new interconnect for Sledgehammer servers, LDT, with API and others, and claims Sledgehammer will run 32bit apps at full speed, unlike the hardware emulation built into the unsinkable 64-bit Intel chip. Given that this supports two variable bit unidirectional streams, we wondered if AMD preferred the designation bus or a switch these days? Call it an interconnect, says Mitton, because although it works like a switch, is isn't the switch, a la Wildfire, SPARC et al. It certainly isn't a bus. But last Fall, didn't you call it a bus? Ah, that was last Fall. OK, Bob.

AMD wouldn't say who might be next in line to pledge support outside the open source distros, although it did say it had talked to all the major system software folk, some of whom had helped design the instruction set.

Now not long ago, there might have been some who'd have said that without the backing of Microsoft any new instruction set would be stillborn. But according to IDC, Linux is already taking 24 per cent of the server market (almost all of which is 32-bit Intel), and rising fast. Throw in BSD and the miniscule Solaris on x86 - which Sun will undoubtedly want to make mischief with, and port to Hammer - and you've got enough of a market to be viable without them.

In truth, should Sledgehammer or "the Hammer family" as AMD's instruction set paper calls it, gain some momentum - and in theory it should match Foster systems on price, only with added 64-bittyness - it will be hard for Microsoft and Novell not to announce support for x86-64. That's a lot more icebergs for Itanic to avoid, and some pure serenefor Chimpzilla.

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