AMD takes aim at Itanium with Hammer

Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) Monday unveiled the blueprint of its highly anticipated 64-bit processor architecture, known as Hammer, here at the Microprocessor Forum.

"This is more than just a new microprocessor," Fred Weber, AMD's chief technology officer, said in a keynote address. "This will enable a full line of server and workstation products."

Hammer is AMD's first attempt at snaring a share of the 64-bit x86 processor market from archrival Intel Corp. AMD's Hammer chips are aimed at the four-way and eight- way server market and complement the new Athlon MP 32-bit processors, also launched by the company Monday.

Because Hammer is a 64-bit processor, it is better suited to running large databases and corporate applications such as data mining and online transaction processing. AMD's existing processors are 32-bit chips, which means they cannot address more than 4G bytes of RAM.

"There is limited demand for applications in a 64-bit instruction set, because most applications don't require more than 4G bytes of RAM," Weber said.

However, a 64-bit x86 processor enables full support of 32-bit applications as well, Weber said. "This means your server, workstation, desktop and mobile architectures are all unified," he said. "The operating system and drivers can be the same across all of them."

Hammer features an integrated DDR (double data rate) DRAM (dynamic RAM) controller, and support for ECC (error correcting code) memory, which checks and corrects code errors in memory, Weber said.

Hammer also uses AMD's HyperTransport bus architecture, which the company unveiled in February. HyperTransport is the interface that chips on the motherboard use to communicate with other elements that aren't on the CPU (central processing unit). The technology enables data transmission between the chips inside the PC to reach speeds of 12.8G bps (bits per second). Since its unveiling, companies including Apple Computer Inc., Cisco Systems Inc., Sun Microsystems Inc., Transmeta Corp., NVidia Corp., API NetWorks Inc. and PMC-Sierra Inc. have announced support for HyperTransport.

The first Hammer processors are expected to be available in the second half of next year.

The Microprocessor Forum, in San Jose, continues through Friday. More information can be found on the Web at http://www.mdronline.com/mpf/index.html/.

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Douglas F. Gray

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