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AMD seeks to jump-start software changes

Chipmaker releases a simulator designed to prod development of software for upcoming processor features.

SAN FRANCISCO--Advanced Micro Devices has released a program called SimNow that simulates its next-generation chips, a move to try to speed the development of software that supports upcoming features.

One of those features, code-named Pacifica, makes it easier to run multiple operating systems on the same computer using software such as Xen. AMD announced the simulator on Tuesday at the LinuxWorld Conference and Expo here.

"My assumption is it's doing (the simulation) at an instruction level, which means it's probably pretty slow," said Insight 64 analyst Nathan Brookwood. "But slow is better than no," he added.

Brookwood expects the simulator also will let programmers prepare their products to use an AMD feature called Presidio, a security technology that ensures separate processes can't interfere with each other. Presidio is similar to Intel's LaGrande, and Pacifica is similar to Intel's Virtualization Technology, or VT.

Intel for years had the market for x86 server chips to itself, but AMD's 2003 launch of Opteron has led to stronger competition. AMD beat Intel with its addition of a 64-bit design, which permits easy use of vast amounts of memory, but Intel should win the race to add virtualization support.

Simulators are a common way that chipmakers try to let software companies prepare for new processors before the chips themselves are ready. Though they're much slower than actual processors, they're still good enough to find many serious bugs, Brookwood said.