AMD could Hammer Intel - analyst

64-bit Hammer could be more attractive to high-end PC vendors than Intel's IA-64

Advanced Micro Devices' next-generation Hammer microprocessors, which aim to extend the life of current PC software and operating systems, could be an attractive bet for computer manufacturers, according to a leading chip analyst.

The Hammer line of processors will compete with market leader Intel's IA-64 line for computing's next wave. AMD is due to launch the processors at the end of next year. Intel's first IA-64 chip, Itanium, is set for launch at the end of this year.

The two chips will take AMD and Intel in radically different directions. Intel is redesigning the processor from the ground up, making it effectively incompatible with existing software based on the x86 instruction set, but Hammer will continue to run x86 software in addition to specially-designed, more powerful applications.

Both chips move from 32-bit computing to 64 bits, giving more power to applications such as large databases, encryption, Internet infrastructure and streaming video.

IA-64 uses an instruction set completely different from x86, called EPIC, which combines elements of RISC (reduced instruction set computing) and VLIW (very long instruction word) computing. AMD's on the other hand, is called x86-64, and extends the instruction set in use today.

AMD's approach is less revolutionary, but could attract manufacturers who want to keep the x86 instruction set going into the next decade, according to analyst Steve Leibson of Microprocessor Report. "In many ways... x86-64 represents a much more conservative approach and should be attractive to high-end PC manufacturers looking to extend their product lines for a few more years," he said in a report published this week.

Intel, on the other hand, could drop x86 after the Pentium 4 chip runs its course. Pentium 4 is due for release in the next few months. "By the time the Pentium 4 core runs out of gas, Intel expects to have IA-64 firmly entrenched. If IA-64 and 64-bit computing do become pervasive, Intel will have far less impetus to again refresh the Pentium line," Leibson said.

IA-64 has been in the works much longer than Hammer, however, and Intel has lined up most workstation and server vendors aside from Sun Microsystems. AMD, for its part, will aim to attack Intel from a lower-margin market segment, gaining a solid base of PC manufacturers with Hammer before attempting to crack the higher-end market, Leibson said.

"It seems unlikely that AMD's x86-64 will dent Intel's workstation and server alliances," Leibson said. "However, the PC vendor community is virtually uncommitted to 64-bit computing for now, so the game is still afoot."

See Chips Central for daily hardware news, including an interactive timeline of AMD and Intel's upcoming product launches.

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