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ComputerWire: IT Industry Intelligence

Advanced Micro Devices Inc showed off prototypes of its x86-64 Hammer technology yesterday even as Intel Corp failed to dampen speculation that it is developing a similar hybrid technology,

Joe Fay writes

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AMD's Hammer technology is designed to support both 32-bit and 64-bit operating systems and applications and yesterday the vendor for the first time publicly demonstrated Hammer chips running Windows XP and a 64 bit version of Linux. The demonstration was held just a few blocks away from the Intel Developer Forum in San Francisco.

The Sunnyvale, California-based company expects to launch a desktop version of the processor by the end of the year, with mobile and server versions following in the first half of 2003.

The core of the processor will be the same in the mobile, desktop and server versions, although the amounts of level 2 cache will vary. The Hammer design features an integrated DDR memory controller, which runs at the same frequency as the core. The chip uses the Hypertransport interconnect technology championed by AMD.

Mark Tellez, AMD's manager for platform solutions and market development, reiterated the vendor's thesis that customers would rather back a platform that enables them to run existing 32-bit software natively as well as 64 bit software, rather than Intel's 64-bit only Itanium platform.

Hammer will offer customers three operating options, he said: in 32-bit mode, users can run 32-bit applications on a 32-bit operating system; in compatibility mode, 32-bit apps will be able to run under the control of a 64-bit operating system without the need to recompile; thirdly, to fully exploit the platform's 64-bit capabilities, applications can be ported across to 64-bit.

Fred Weber, CTO for AMD's computation products group, said that porting the Linux OS to Hammer's 64-bit mode had been "fairly easy", although final validation would require further work.

So far the vendor has not secured any commitment from Microsoft that Windows will be ported to Hammer's 64 bit mode, although Tellez said the software giant had received the specs for the platform and had provided feedback.

The vendor has yet to secure vendor support for the platform, although with almost a year to go until the platform ships it is still fairly early days.

Sally Stevens, director of product marketing for Compaq's density optimized servers described Hammer as "definitely exciting" but said the decision to support the architecture would turn on how robust the part's chipset set support was.

When it announced its Hammer strategy, AMD appeared to taking a radically different approach to Intel, whose Itanium chip represented a definitive break with IA 32. However, recent reports claimed Intel is developing its own hybrid architecture, codenamed Yamhill, which runs both 32 bit and 64 bit software.

This week Intel CEO Craig Barrett refused to confirm or deny the existence of Yamhill, citing the vendor's policy of never commenting on products it has not officially announced. However, OEMs at the show confirmed they have been at least talking with Intel about its plans for a 64 bit platform that offers
continuity with IA 32.

Even if Intel does follow through on a hybrid strategy, it will likely be some way behind AMD. This could fit in nicely with the launch of Montecito, the 90 nanometer Itanium platform which Intel's enterprise chief Mike Fister revealed on Monday, and which is scheduled for release in 2004.

Fister said Montecito would feature "all kinds of amazing stuff" in terms of evolutions to the microarchitecture. One of these could well be the extension of hyperthreading to Itanium. However, given the time ramp to the launch of Montecito, the vendor may also exploit this to take the opportunity to rebridge the gap with its IA32 heritage.

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