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Transmeta licenses AMD Hammer technology

Wins rights to x86-64, supports HyperTransport. Surprise, surprise...

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AMD's long-mooted partnership with Transmeta has finally reached the point where the pair can admit it in public. So Transmeta announced today that has licensed AMD's x86-64 instruction set architecture and had signed up for HyperTransport while was at it.

The timing of the announcement isn't surprising - not with Intel about to launch its own 64-bit CPU, Itanium, next Tuesday, 29 May.

That the pair have been working together on x86-64, the architecture for AMD's Hammer family of 64-bit processors, emerged last November. AMD was having problems emulating the ISA, and apparently called in Transmeta to give it a hand. They had already been sharing thoughts on chip power management technology, and Transmeta knows how to morph one instruction set into another.

The upshot was a better x86-64 emulator, providing developers with a better opportunity to get cracking on with 64-bit apps for Hammer.

The work appears to have been fruitful, and rumours emerged earlier this year that Transmeta was helping AMD implement its code-morphing technology to give x86-64 fast, efficient backwards compatibility with 32-bit apps. In essence, Hammer will morph 32-bit code on the fly into 64-bit code. That could ensure Hammer runs 32-bit apps faster than Intel's Itanium at the same clock speed.

In return, it was said, Transmeta gets rights to use the 64-bit instruction set, which is effectively what the company this morning announced it had obtained. Access to x86-64 allows Transmeta to offer Hammer-compatible chips that, combined with the company's power-conservation technology, will allow it to target the ultra-dense server market.

It may also give Transmeta room to get in ahead of AMD. ClawHammer, the Hammer chip aimed at single- and dual-processor systems, won't now appear before Q3 2002. Transmeta's gigahertz Crusoe - the TM5800 - is due early next year. The company last year told The Register it would debut 256-bit Crusoes, alongside its current 128-bit line.

Terms of the licensing deal were not made public, so we don't yet know what AMD gets out of it. We're minded to wonder whether there's some Transmeta technology in the latest incarnation of AMD's PowerNow! power-saving system, for example.

AMD certainly gets itself further support for its 64-bit technology - ditto for HyperTransport, which will go up against Intel's 'third-generation' I/O spec. due later this year - along with a possible second-source for the product, a factor that may swing customers in its favour and away from Intel's IA-64 architecture. So too will Hammer's anticipated superior performance when running 32-bit legacy apps, though this is yet far from proven. ®

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