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Hammer time at Microsoft – Windows to support AMD's Opteron

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ComputerWire: IT Industry Intelligence

Advanced Micro Devices Inc yesterday unveiled the AMD Opteron, the long-touted "Hammer" or "SledgeHammer" 64-bit server processor, and said it has won crucial operating system support from Microsoft Corp.

The announcements signify the beginning of a crucial phase in AMD's evolution - the company is banking on the Opteron to help it grow sales by selling more server processors into power-hungry enterprises, where Intel Corp is the traditional leader.

Microsoft has agreed to build support into Windows for the advanced features in the Opteron, as well as the existing Athlon processor families. AMD plans to demonstrate the Opteron, running a developmental 64-bit Windows today at its annual shareholders meeting in New York, and to start shipping in the first half of next year.

"The union of AMD's 8th-generation processor technology and a Microsoft Windows operating system built to support that technology lays the groundwork for broader industry adoption of 64-bit computing platforms, especially in the enterprise," said Dirk Meyer, VP of AMD's Computation Products Group.

The announcement was not unexpected - AMD CEO Jerry Sanders testified in the Microsoft antitrust trial last week that he had asked chairman Bill Gates to support Hammer over a rumored rival from Intel. Prosecuting attorneys tried to show that Sanders only testified in order to gain such support, which Sanders denied.

In addition, SuSE Linux AG said in February it has submitted code to the Linux kernel that will allow Hammer-based boxes to run the open-source operating system. AMD expects the changes to be incorporated into Linux's retail operating systems based on the Linux kernel version 2.6 or later.

The Opteron core will support both native 64-bit and 32-bit processing, AMD said. This is in contrast to Intel, which has distinct 32-bit and 64-bit lines - Pentium and Itanium. Intel is rumored to be developing its own dual-mode equivalent, code-named Yamhill, though recent evidence sheds doubt on this speculation.

Opteron will offer customers three operating options. In 32-bit mode, users can run 32-bit applications on a 32-bit OS. 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. To fully exploit the platform's 64-bit capabilities, applications can also be ported across to 64-bit.

The Athlon desktop version of the 8th-generation technology is expect to ship in the fourth quarter, with mobile and server versions next year. 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, according to AMD spokespeople last month.

The Opteron design features an integrated DDR memory controller, which runs at the same frequency as the core and which AMD claims will significantly reduce memory latency. The processors will be based around the HyperTransport interconnect standard.

64-bit processors are only usually necessary for intensive server applications such as datawarehousing and business intelligence, image manipulation and ERP. AMD thinks enterprise hardware buyers will balk at having to buy separate systems for their 32-bit and 64-bit applications.

"In choosing this name, AMD is conveying that the processor will give users the option to run either 32-bit or 64-bit applications, with optimal performance on both," said Ed Ellett, VP of marketing for AMD's Computation Products Group, explaining the branding decision.

© ComputerWire. All rights reserved.

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