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Chip furthers AMD's computer overhaul plan

API NetWorks unveils a chip that bolsters a technology Advanced Micro Devices hopes will give its products an edge over rival Intel.

API NetWorks unveiled a chip Monday that bolsters a technology that Advanced Micro Devices hopes will give its products an edge over rival Intel.

The chip, AP1011, enables the use of HyperTransport, a communication technology codeveloped by AMD and API NetWorks, formerly known as Alpha Processor.

HyperTransport speeds communication between the CPU and computer components such as network cards, but it faces competition from similar Intel technology.

Although AMD naturally sees HyperTransport as a good fit for future computers, API NetWorks sees the first uses in networking equipment, said Dave Rich, general manager of network silicon at Concord, Mass.-based API NetWorks.

"We've had lots of interest from a broad range" of PC and server companies for the chip, he said, but it will likely be used sooner in networking equipment such as routers, cell phone base stations or optical switches. For example, communications chipmakers Broadcom, PMC-Sierra and Sandcraft all plan versions of MIPS Technologies' CPU that can communicate with HyperTransport, Rich said.

Computing companies also are potential customers. AMD and graphics chipmaker Nvidia are building chips that can communicate with HyperTransport, and server powerhouse Sun Microsystems has endorsed the technology.

API NetWorks' will sell the AP1011 and license its design to others wanting to come up with their own chips, Rich said.

The chip acts as a bridge between a CPU to the peripheral component interconnect (PCI) data pathway long used to plug in devices to computers, he said.

PCI, though very popular, is aging, and computer designers assert that something needs to be done to augment or replace it. HyperTransport is that technology, Rich asserts.

"We're up against the problem of how to extend PCI-based systems," he said.

HyperTransport also could serve as a good link to the InfiniBand server communication technology originally envisioned to do what HyperTransport does, Rich said.

Although network equipment leader Cisco Systems has embraced HyperTransport, use of the technology in computers has been complicated by Intel's competing plans. Makers of desktop computers, servers and the chips those computers use must decide which technology to embrace.

HyperTransport backers, "I believe, could prevail without Intel, though...it would be far better if everyone could coalesce around some new standard," said Insight 64 analyst Nathan Brookwood.

Similar chasms have been bridged before--for example in the case of competing standards that preceded InfiniBand. But the two camps that were warring over the InfiniBand predecessors were in a somewhat different situation: Neither side had a product ready to roll.

HyperTransport, by comparison, is much better developed than the competing Intel technology, Brookwood said, making it less likely that the design will be changed to accommodate a compromise.

"Intel's really 18 months behind," Brookwood said.