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AMD Hammers out 64-bit Developer’s Specs

With Itanium getting pushed back like a lousy football team, another 64-bit processor may take center stage. Advanced Micro Devices Corp. (AMD) today released developer’s specifications for their upcoming 64-bit processor, codenamed "Sledgehammer."

Unlike Intel Corp.’s (www.intel.com) Itanium, which uses an architecture borrowed from Hewlett Packard Co. (www.hp.com), AMD’s (www.amd.com) Sledgehammer will continue to use a version of the x86 instruction set used since Intel’s 8088 was used in the first PC. "It’s an evolutionary approach that will leverage what can be leveraged," says Fred Weber, vice president of engineering at AMD's computation products group.

Sledgehammer will be able to run both 32-bit and 64-bit software natively, obviating the need for software to be recompiled or optimized for the new chips. "We want to make the installed base of software, whether developed on our processors or developed on Intel’s x86 processors, compatible," says Weber.

In contrast, Intel has had to leverage its relationships and market position to ensure that compilers and operating systems will be compatible with Itanium. Although many major OEMs release desktops with AMD processors, AMD remains the underdog in the chip market, particularly in servers.

Some critics have attacked the x86 instruction set as hopelessly outdated, favoring RISC architectures as the future of computing. Weber says that AMD’s decision to stick with x86 was a business decision, not a technological one: "When choosing an architecture you have to choose what the market needs, and that is compatibility and availability."

AMD did not offer a roadmap for hardware release, only releasing documents describing the instruction set for the new processors. However, AMD plans on releasing server, desktop, and mobile versions of Sledgehammer, suggesting that AMD is targeting the enterprise with servers and PDAs. AMD has also roadmapped a server version of its Athlon processor.

The developers specifications are available from AMD at http://www.amd.com/products/cpg/64bit/overview.html. - Christopher McConnell

About the Author

Scott Bekker is editor in chief of Redmond Channel Partner magazine.