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AMD demo hints Hammer in full swing

Opteron, the latest milestone along Advanced Micro Devices' road to introducing its Hammer family of processors, is already catching on in the PC industry, the company says.

Advanced Micro Devices says Opteron, its forthcoming rival to Intel's Itanium 2 chip, is already catching on in the PC industry.

AMD, which will introduce the processor early next year, demonstrated on Monday a four-way server built around a quartet of Opterons and announced a host of supporting software and components such as chipsets from Nvidia. The demo and news came at the Computex trade show in Taiwan.

The four-way server and the new Opteron-friendly products are the latest milestones along AMD's road to introducing its Hammer family of processors.

More than just another line of server and desktop chips, the Hammer family is the main focus of AMD's future ambitions. The Opteron will give AMD greater performance and will reduce manufacturing costs, the company said. These two features will help AMD continue to compete with bitter rival Intel.

"Opteron, being (part of) AMD's next-generation product family, is critical to AMD's long-term presence in the market," said Dean McCarron, principal analyst at Mercury Research.

The new Hammer chips will be capable of 2GHz and faster clock speeds and will be able to run 32-bit programs--the kind used on most desktops today--as well as 64-bit applications for servers. The Opteron chip will be aimed at servers, while another family member, an Athlon-branded chip formerly code-named ClawHammer, will debut first as a chip for desktop PCs.

Monday's Opteron server demo used a 64-bit SuSE version of the Linux operating system and was meant to show off the processor's ability to work in midrange to high-end servers and compete with chips like Intel's Itanium 2.

The announcements of supporting components and software, meanwhile, were designed to show that the industry is embracing the Opteron.

Nvidia is developing a new version of its nForce chipset as well as both 32-bit and 64-bit software drivers that will work with Opteron and Athlon processors when they're released. Motherboard makers Asustek Computer, Elitegroup Computer Systems, First International Computer and Gigabyte Technology will all offer motherboards that support the new Hammer chips. Microsoft has even announced support for the new chips. It will create a version of its Windows operating system that is designed for use with Hammers.

The new hardware components and software, as well as a host of other elements--ranging from 64-bit Linux to voltage regulators--are all needed to build and operate computers with the new AMD chips.

Analysts say that while the announcements are fairly routine by themselves, the large number of them adds more evidence that the Hammer line is nearing completion.

"There's been a lot of evidence the processors are ready to go. AMD has been demonstrating (Hammer) since last February," said Mercury Research's McCarron. "These are things you'd expect to happen before a product is launched."

Hammer's 64-bit abilities will mainly be marketed on the Opteron or server side. That's because 64-bit chips can host much larger amounts of RAM than 32-bit machines, and larger applications like databases or computer simulations need the extra memory to perform well.

Meanwhile, AMD's current Athlon XP processor for desktop and notebook PCs will continue to increase in speed and performance over the course of the year and undergo one more major revision before taking the place of both AMD's midrange and low-price chip offerings, starting early next year.

The next Athlon XP chip, a 1.8GHz Athlon XP 2200+ desktop processor, will come next week, sources said. The 2200+ is AMD's first desktop chip to be manufactured by way of the .13 micron process, which should allow for higher clock speeds and lower power consumption.

The next major upgrade after the 2200+, dubbed Barton, will add a larger 512KB on-chip data cache, which should boost performance by allowing the chip to access larger amounts of data quickly. Barton will come in the second half of this year.

The company's low-price Duron chip is likely to see at least one more clock speed bump, to 1.4GHz, before being phased out at the end of the year.