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Transmeta to license AMD technology

The chipmakers will announce a licensing pact that will allow Transmeta to use AMD's x86-64 and HyperTransport technologies in forthcoming chips.

Transmeta will transplant some of AMD's processor technologies into future Crusoe chips.

The chipmakers--long rumored to be fostering a close relationship--will announce a licensing pact Friday that will allow Transmeta to use AMD's x86-64 and HyperTransport technologies in forthcoming chips.

HyperTransport will likely be the first technology put to use by Transmeta. The technology is designed to replace the PCI bus, which shuttles information between the processor and other parts of a computer system, with a faster data pipeline.

HyperTransport will be used by the two processor companies and by Sun Microsystems, Cisco Systems and graphics chipmakers to connect their chips. Microsoft is also evaluating the technology.

But Transmeta's decision to license the x86-64 technology will likely draw the most attention. The x86-64 technology, which AMD plans to debut in the second half of next year with a chip code-named Clawhammer, adds extensions to the x86 design most PC chips are based on to allow data to be processed in larger 64-bit chunks.

Moving to 64-bit from 32-bit allows AMD chips to take advantage of much larger amounts of physical memory.

The technology thus improves the performance of server-oriented applications such as databases or technical applications such as computer-aided design.

Transmeta Chief Technology Officer David Ditzel said the chipmaker will keep the 64-bit technology in its back pocket for now.

"We've licensed the extensions to use them when we feel like it," Ditzel said.

Mike Feibus, an analyst at Mercury Research, added, "It's going to be a while before 64-bit permeates our lives."

Feibus predicted Transmeta might need the technology at some point, however, to support customers in the server business, such as RLX Technologies.

AMD says the technology extends the x86 processor architecture to 64 bits but retains full compatibility with 32-bit applications, without taking a performance hit.

For Transmeta, maintaining compatibility was paramount in the decision to license x86-64, Ditzel said.

"I've thought a lot about this particular issue, and I think a lot of people are concerned about compatibility," he said. As a result, "what we decided to do is license x86-64 and endorse it. We think it makes sense to go with the compatible aspect."

Intel, on the other hand, chose a different route to 64-bit processing. Its Itanium chip offers 64-bit addressing but uses an entirely different architecture, which requires updated operating systems and applications to realize its full potential.

AMD and Transmeta acknowledge that applications used on today's PCs are based on 32-bit addressing and are likely to remain that way for some time. Both see a time, however, when at least some desktop applications will be ported to 64-bit to take advantage of larger amounts of memory.

"We're really pleased that Transmeta has chosen to endorse and adopt this technology," said Fred Weber, chief technical officer of AMD's Computational Products Group.

AMD and Transmeta also were in talks about collaborating on another x86-64 project, in which Transmeta would build a software simulator for the chip. But AMD later chose to go in a different direction, sources said.

When asked if the licensing agreement might lead to a closer relationship between the two chip companies, Weber described the agreement as an "instance of cooperation."

"I don't think you can predict that future on it," he said.