AMD issues 64-bit Hammer spec

Details of 64-bit processor range from AMD unveiled

Rejuvenated microprocessor manufacturer AMD continued its drive towards 64-bit computing with the release of specifications for it forthcoming 64-bit "Hammer" family of microprocessors Wednesday.

The architectural details will enable programmers to port operating systems, application and drivers over to the new hardware.

The first of these processors, codenamed Sledgehammer, will be aimed primarily at servers. Its 64-bit capabilities will allow it to handle large amounts of physical memory. It will be perfectly suited to memory hungry applications.

AMD's Hammer microprocessors are also, by contrast to Intel's 64-bit Itanium high-end processor, designed to be compatible with existing x86 32-bit software.

Intel's 64-bit high-end microprocessor, Itanium, has been built to operate using a non-x86 instruction set named Epic (Explicitly Parallel Instruction Computing). This means that software developers have to do a considerable amount of work to port x86 applications over to the 64-bit Itanium.

AMD believes that x86 compatibility will make Hammer more attractive to both developers and end users. "AMD's x86-64 technology is intended to integrate fluidly into the existing 32-bit computing environment," said AMD vice president of engineering, Fred Weber. "It will also permit users to adopt 64-bit applications at their own pace, as the hardware and software support for 64-bit computing become available."

Sun, which produces the Solaris operating system, has given its backing to AMD's x86-compatible 64-bit approach. "Sun Microsystems' Solaris team is very excited about AMD's x86-64 technology," said Anil Gadre, vice president and general manager for Solaris at Sun Microsystems. "We applaud AMD's ISV [Independent Software Vendor] compatibility and upgrade strategy."

AMD's Hammer features a 64-bit mode with a 64-bit address space and a 64-bit data space. The processors will be able to detect whether a 64-bit or 32-bit mode is required at any time.

The Hammer line will ultimately be directed at mainstream desktops, a move which some observers have questioned. "The issue is, is it needed?" said Joe D'Elia, vice president of GartnerGroup's semiconductor team. "Hardware at the 32-bit level is still ahead of the demands being made on it by software. It's not one of the things that the industry is screaming out for."

Because Hammer will offer expanded memory accessibility, however, D'Elia believes that it may find a niche among those using high-end desktop applications.

D'Elia also predicts that in three or four years' time, with widespread broadband Internet access, memory accessibility will become more of an issue for desktop computers.

Developers can view the full architectural specifications of Hammer at the AMD Web site here.

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