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AMD tries to round up Pacifica support

Chipmaker discloses details behind its forthcoming virtualization technology, hoping to get developers onboard.

Advanced Micro Devices wants software developers to catch the wave of Pacifica, its forthcoming virtualization technology.

The chipmaker disclosed on Wednesday several details behind Pacifica, which is designed to help a computer run multiple operating systems and applications in separate partitions at one time.

AMD executives, who handed out the information at the AMD Reviewer's Day in Austin, Texas, said Pacifica is similar enough to virtualization efforts by Intel, dubbed Vanderpool, that software developers should be able to create applications that work with both companies' technologies, instead of crafting separate versions. A full set of specifications for the technology are due out in April.

AMD hopes that releasing details will foster software development around the technology, which includes adjustments for its AMD Opteron and Athlon 64 chips. While it's possible to run multiple operating systems in different partitions on mainstream x86 servers--x86 is the architecture that underpins AMD and Intel PC processors--it cannot be done without special software such as EMC's VMware, Microsoft's Virtual Server or open-source software called .

Thus, AMD--and Intel with its Vanderpool Technology--is adjusting its chips to try to build on those efforts for both servers and PCs.

"What we're doing is taking the emulation piece and putting that into the CPU, and that makes for faster virtualization, more secure virtualization and it makes it easier now for someone to write a hyperviser," or software that runs beneath the operating system, divvying up access to hardware resources, such as VMware or Xen, said Steven McDowell, division marketing manager for AMD's computational products group. "It's about performance, security and complexity--taking complexity out."

Pacifica will begin appearing in AMD chips in the first half of 2006.

The chips, which include a number of modifications, such as the addition of new instructions, will arrive nearly simultaneously with Intel's VT-enabled processor, McDowell said.

The technology will come in both AMD Opteron server chips and Athlon 64 processors for desktops and notebooks. Thus it will be available for servers, where virtualization is already a common practice, and for consumer- and business-oriented desktops and notebooks, the company said.

Though the upside of virtualization for servers is well documented--it allows them to do many jobs simultaneously--AMD sees several uses for virtualization in desktops and notebooks for businesses and consumers. For businesses, it could be used to create a barrier between a person's personal and work-related files and applications. It could also be used to divide up consumer PCs to tackle different jobs, such as video recording and playing games or Web surfing, at the same time, McDowell said.

AMD is also planning enhancements for both its single-core and dual-core processors even further down the road in order to take advantage of Pacifica, the chipmaker said.