AMD Takes Hammer to Corporate Market

No. 2 chip maker is looking for chip's new 64-bit design to help AMD break into the corporate market and serve as the basis for future generations of chips.

SAN JOSE, Calif.—Advanced Micro Devices Inc., which has long been relegated to making chips for use in consumer PCs, is readying a new product—appropriately code-named Hammer—that officials hope will help the company break into the lucrative corporate market.

In AMDs most revealing public statement to date on its Hammer plans, scheduled to be introduced in the second half of 2002, an executive on Monday said the chip maker is looking to its new 64-bit design to serve as the basis for future generations of chips.

"The Hammer program provides a top-to-bottom road map for desktop and mobile processors in addition to the server and workstation," Fred Webber, vice president and chief technical officer of AMDs Computation Products Group, said here in an address at the Microprocessor Forum.

In revealing some of the first details about the chip, Weber hinted that it would be released at 2GHz and said that on one key benchmark, SpecINT, Hammer would score nearly twice as high as 64-bit chips on the market today from such as those offered by Intel Corp., Sun Microsystems Inc. and IBM.

"Thats really very impressive," said Nathan Brookwood, principal analyst at Insight 64, in Saratoga, Calif. "Thats like a baseball player coming out and saying hes going to hit 80 home runs next year. That would be a significant accomplishment."

AMDs Hammer program also will mark a dramatic transition for the worlds second largest PC chip maker, which has never before produced a 64-bit processor, a type of product used to address the most demanding data-intensive applications used by corporations and research facilities. Currently, there are no 64-bit applications designed for consumer use.

Currently, the flagship product for the Sunnyvale, Calif., company is its 32-bit Athlon XP, the successor to its popular selling Athlon chip thats captured a large share of the consumer PC market. But despite its competitive performance compared with leading chip maker Intels top Pentium 4, AMDs Athlon has yet to be designed into commercial PCs systems by major U.S. computer makers.

AMD hopes to change that by producing a uniquely versatile 64-bit chip thatll be not only a fully compatible with todays most common PC applications, but will be able to power high-end servers as well.

Most 64-bit processors produced today are not compatible with PC applications that are based on the X86 architecture. Intels new 64-bit Itanium can handle some 32-bit X86 applications, but the chips performance suffers significantly, limiting its likely use for such tasks.

High-end workstations and servers use 64-bit processors to tackle extremely large data calculations that require the processor to have fast access to large amounts of physical or virtual memory. For example, while many PCs today use only 128MB of DRAM, a high-end 64-bit system can be called upon to use 4GB of memory.

Companies seeking such high-performance pay dearly for it as well, with 64-bit chips each costing $8,000 or more, and systems outfitted with such chips often garnering prices of more than $1 million.

While relatively few computer users today need 64-bit power, AMDs betting that eventually more demanding applications will arrive and spur more companies, and even consumers, to transition to more robust processors.

"We have a compelling migration story to 64-bit," Webber said, "a story that lets you move forward to a 64-bit architecture that will have leading-edge 64-bit performance without having to compromise on your current applications."

In designing its 64-bit processor, AMD took a different approach from other chip makers in that it took the X86 architecture that forms the basis of todays popular 32-bit PC chips and extended it to the 64-bit realm.

In theory, thatll give it a flexibility no other processor can match, Weber said, and that feature will certainly prove compelling to corporate system managers trying to keep costs down when transitioning to 64-bit.

"It means that your server, workstation, desktops and mobile architectures are all unified," Webber said. "You can use your existing BIOS, operating systems and drivers across all those platforms."