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AMD talks up Opteron chip

Though its new Opteron processor won't make its debut until April, the chipmaker is talking it up at this week's LinuxWorld trade show in New York.

NEW YORK--Advanced Micro Devices is looking to drum up support for its forthcoming 64-bit Opteron server chip.

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Though the new processor won't make its debut until April, AMD is talking it up in front of the crowds at this week's LinuxWorld trade show here. During a keynote speech Wednesday, AMD CEO Hector Ruiz announced a host of new developments, including a new manufacturing partner, an evaluation program for customers to test Opteron servers, and new software for the chip.

"We're here to support you, the open-source community," Ruiz told the audience.

Working with Newisys and Sanmina-SCI, AMD will offer as many as 500 Opteron servers to potential partners and customers for testing and software development purposes. The company is hoping that good results from those servers will encourage early adoption among large corporations.

Newisys is an important partner for Opteron, as the start-up is designing a server that primarily will be licensed to other manufacturers.

The Opteron chip also got a vote of support at the show from manufacturer Eunix and from IBM's software group. Milpitas, Calif.-based Eunix said it will launch Acceleron, a line of heavy-duty Opteron servers to be shipped simultaneously with the Opteron chip. Pricing was not announced. Boston-based Angstrom Microsystems is also building an Opteron server.

Meanwhile, IBM has released a test version of its newest DB2 database for Linux. At the trade show, AMD demonstrated the database program running in a version of SuSE's Linux operating system. The chipmaker also announced a new library of mathematical functions for use in developing engineering, scientific and financial software applications.

Elsewhere, developers are already working on a wide range of software for Opteron, including several Linux applications and operating systems and a version of Microsoft's Windows.

All of the announcements by AMD are part its strategy to champion the Opteron chip and help establish the company's role in offering 64-bit addressing in the business market.

Using a technology AMD calls x86-64, the company added new instructions to the current x86 processor architecture that extended the chip to 64 bits of data. The move to 64 bits enhances performance for servers by allowing them to support much larger amounts of memory than current AMD Athlon chips, which manage only 32 bits of data. Thanks to the extra memory, a server can decrease access times for data by minimizing its need to seek out that data on a hard drive.

AMD says its approach is better than rival technologies--which require new software--because x86-64 maintains compatibility with current 32-bit software, allowing companies to run their existing wares on the servers as well.

Intel, for one, makes separate chips--its Xeon and Itanium--for 32-bit and 64-bit servers. Stepping up to 64-bit software requires a move to the new hardware.

Some of AMD's earliest Opteron customer wins have been in supercomputers. Ruiz trumpeted AMD's successes there, including a machine Cray is building for Sandia National Laboratories. The computer, called Red Storm, will incorporate more than 10,000 Opteron chips.