AMD Hammer chip nails open source

Linux distributors and tools vendors are climbing on board at LinuxWorld for AMD's new 64-bit chip offering

At LinuxWorld in San Jose, California, AMD announced support from vendors Red Hat and SuSE. The pair will work to port their Linux flavors to AMD's forthcoming 64-bit chip codenamed SledgeHammer.

The chip, otherwise known as Hammer, uses a new instruction set -- a modified version of the x86 instruction set used in AMD's Athlon processor. The new instruction set has been dubbed x86-64.

Hammer's extra instructions, as well as some hardware enhancements, allow it to run in 64-bit or 32-bit modes.

Most applications and operating systems today are 32-bit. The work on the part of OS vendors, such as Red Hat, is necessary for the chip to be able to run the operating systems in its 64-bit mode. The main advantage of 64 bit over 32 bit is performance. A 64-bit processor can, for example, address a much larger amount of physical memory than a 32-bit processor -- terabytes, in this instance, as opposed to gigabytes.

This benefit comes into play with large corporate applications such as databases, in which more memory increases performance.

AMD also sees a place for 64-bit chips for the desktop. It believes the 64-bit mode would lead to much faster processing of things such as encryption/decryption.

AMD also announced Tuesday that Linux development-tool vendor CodeSourcery will work with the company to port GNU/Linux operating systems to x86-64. Ada Core Technologies, a software development tool maker, also announced its support for x86-64.

AMD has also received support outside of the open source community for its new chip and instruction set.

Last week, Sun Microsystems backed AMD's x86-64 strategy. Sun will port its Solaris UNIX OS to Hammer/x86-64. IBM said it was considering porting its AIX OS to the new chip, as well.

However, Microsoft was noncommittal, with company officials saying only that Microsoft had looked at the specifications for the chip.

Also Tuesday, AMD announced that it will establish a new x86-64 simulator for developers, called www.x86-64.org.

The simulator, which will allow developers to test operating systems and other software, will be available for free on the Web, starting next month.

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