Microsoft to Support AMDs Hammer

Internal company memo reveals the software maker began testing a 64-bit version of Windows XP on an early sample of AMD's new chip in February.

Advanced Micro Devices Inc. Wednesday will announce that Microsoft Corp. has agreed to support the chip makers upcoming 64-bit Hammer family of processors, sources said.

The announcement will end months of speculation about whether Microsoft would provide the critical software support AMD has long sought in order to make its new architecture, debuting late this year, more appealing to enterprise customers.

Although Microsoft has repeatedly refused to commit to supporting Hammer, an internal company memo viewed by eWEEK reveals the software maker began testing a 64-bit version of Windows XP on an early sample of AMDs new chip, also known by the code name K8, in February.

"Today … we booted and are running the 64-bit versions of Windows XP on the AMD64 K8 system. ... The hardware is unbelievably solid for a chip that just popped out of the oven a mere month ago," it states.

The memo, dated Feb. 7, was sent from Dave Cutler, a senior Distinguished Engineer with the Windows Base Team, to Microsoft executives including Chairman Bill Gates and CEO Steve Ballmer.

The memo goes on to say that "in addition to running the 64-bit system, we can dual boot into the 32-bit version of XP as well on the very same hardware without any changes."

A Microsoft spokesman declined to comment on the accuracy of the memo. "We never, as a matter of policy, comment on leaked memos, but we are currently evaluating the Hammer technology. There is obviously a lot of interest out there, and you can expect an announcement on our plans for this sooner rather than later," he told eWEEK in an interview.

The software giants backing gives AMD a significant boost in its efforts to compete against longtime Microsoft ally Intel Corp., which released its first 64-bit Itanium processor last year. Microsoft has long promoted its support for Itanium, and last year released a 64-bit Windows operating system in support of it.

Unlike Itanium, which features dramatically new architecture, AMDs Hammer is based on the X86 design thats currently featured in todays most popular PC processors, such as Intels Pentium and AMDs Athlon product lines.

While Intel claims Itaniums unique design gives it unbeatable performance advantages, the processors lack of compatibility with todays commonly used 32-bit applications is believed to have hurt its widespread adoption.

AMD, which contends Hammer will be fully compatible with existing 32-bit applications as well as emerging 64-bit versions, is betting that corporate customers seeking to leverage their existing software while they move to 64-bit computing will prefer its solution.

In an ironic twist, Intels success in getting Microsoft to design software for Itanium may have made it easier for the software maker to design an OS for AMDs Hammer, one analyst said.

"The real challenge in moving Windows to Itanium was in utilizing 64-bit addressing," said Nathan Brookwood, with Insight 64 in Saratoga, Calif. "Once Microsoft had done it for Itanium, moving it to another 64-bit platform was a simpler and more straightforward task."

(Although Microsoft and Compaq Computer Corp. developed a 64-bit Windows NT for the computer makers Alpha servers, Brookwood contends the design didnt fully utilize the 64-bit features as Windows for Itanium does.)

The new 64-bit chips are competing for the newly emerging and potentially lucrative market for high-end Windows-based servers. Currently, Unix-based vendors such as Sun Microsystems Inc., Hewlett-Packard Co. and IBM dominate the market for 64-bit systems, which can handle vast amounts of memory and process thousands of transactions simultaneous.

But in coming years, growth of Windows-based servers are expected to surge as companies using Microsoft compatible business applications look to build out their infrastructures through the addition of 64-bit systems.

In a release Tuesday promoting Wednesdays news conference, AMD, based in Sunnyvale, Calif., said it would "announce two significant developments related to Hammer as AMD marches toward the future of 64-bit computing and where it would answer the 64-bit question."

In addition to announcing Microsofts support, sources said, AMD is expected to announce under what brand name it will market its newest chip.

AMD representatives declined to comment on the announcement beyond merely repeating what the company stated in the release.

Microsofts support for Hammer comes just two months after SuSE Linux AG, one of the worlds leading providers of Linux operating systems, announced it would support the new chip.

Microsofts fear of losing a greater share of the enterprise market to Linux likely played into its decision, said one industry analyst.

"I think the announcement by SuSE probably got Microsoft off their dime," said Kevin Krewell, an analyst with Cahners MDR/In-Stat in Sunnyvale, Calif. "Hammer will be playing into the one- and two-server space, and I dont think Microsoft wants to see Linux gain any more traction in that area."

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