AMD Slashes Comdex

With the help of guitarist Slash, AMD's CEO pushes his company's 64-bit efforts and calls for a "radical change."

LAS VEGAS—It was apropos that on a cool, sunny Tuesday morning here, Advanced Micro Devices Inc. President and CEO Hector de Ruiz would treat Comdex 2002 attendees to an equally cool keynote address, one that ended with guitarist Slash joining Ruiz on stage for a stirring version of Dylans "Knocking On Heavens Door." But, in true Vegas/Comdex fashion, the lyrics were changed to "Knocking on 64."

The word play, of course, was designed to drive home the companys 64-bit efforts, one that will begin in 2003 with what the company officially announced today as AMD Athlon 64. The desktop chip, formerly called Clawhammer, is due in the first half of the year and will tout backward compatibility with 32-bit applications—a key, say company officials and observers, that will help customers migrate to 64-bit computing without having to abandon existing apps.

But the performance of the forthcoming chips—capabilities that were highlighted by testimonials from early customers such as Gibson Guitars, JAK Films, Cray and Epic Games, and not the traditional mind-numbing series of benchmark charts and graphs—played only a supporting role in Ruizs central theme. The message: Stop the technological rat race.

"Lets get real," Ruiz charged the industry. "This is a time for radical change."

With the enormous opportunities to influence entire industries, he said, comes the equally important responsibility to help people take advantage of those technologies.

"We can be faulted for creating a lot of technology and little innovation," he said. "We have been guilty of pushing our technology faster and faster for the mere fact that we can. It is time to adopt a policy of no new technology without … customer demand."

AMD calls the philosophy customer-centric innovation.

Joining Ruiz on stage to help discuss his companys work with AMD was Henry Juskiewicz, CEO of Gibson Guitars. The legendary guitar manufacturer is developing a completely digital electric guitar that features a digital receiver in the pick-up under each string that sends digital signals to an internal Ethernet connection. The guitar, which is also equipped with an Ethernet port, can connect to a digital audio workstation from which the musician can easily create otherwise complex media recordings and presentations.

To further highlight his mission to drive customer demand into development, Ruiz pointed to his companys work with Cray, which is using AMDs 64-bit Opteron chip in a supercomputer it is building for the U.S. Department of Energys Sandia National Laboratories, the federal operation responsible for securing the countrys nuclear stock pile. According to officials from the company, Cray is taking advantage of the chips support for large quantities of memory as well as its backward compatibility to 32-bit apps that will enable it to move off applications more easily.

And while JAK Films pre-visualization effect manager, Daniel Gregoire, pointed to Athlons ability to let his 12 developers "do 90 percent of the work in 10 percent of the time," IBMs Dr. Pat Selinger, vice president of data management architecture and technology, told the crowd it took IBM only two days to port its DB2 to AMDs Opteron running DB2 for Linux.

The presentation had its share of sex and violence, too.

While the CEO of game software developer Epic spoke of the performance boost his companys getting with AMDs Operton chips, another Epic exec demonstrated its forthcoming upgrade of the game "Unreal." Amid talk of processing power, scores of action figures were blown to bits in surround sound, leaving pools of blood in their place. At one point, the mayhem prompted a distracted demonstrator to interrupt the conversation, blurting: "Oh, look! Im getting hammered!"

This presentation was followed by what was described as a "sexy" demonstration of nVidias graphics prowess, which is being powered by AMD chips. As an nVidia official ran a graphic animation of "Dawn," a Vegas-sized, full-figured and barely dressed fairy, company President, CEO and co-founder Jen-Hsun Huang discussed the technical attributes that were made possible from the processing power, such as the increased number of polygons used.

But even the CEO seemed a bit awkward when in pointing out how nVidia was able to highlight the brightness and shadows of the womans body, he paused and referred to her curves as a "very full-figure."

After the presentation, Huang announced that Dawn would be "available for dates in 45 days."

But the show stopper occurred at the end of the presentation when Ruiz announced the "CEO of Rock," Slash, former guitarist for Guns N Roses, who sneaked on stage, plugged in his guitar and treated the audience to five minutes of solo playing to the Bob Dylan song, "Knocking On Heavens Door."

Only in Las Vegas.