AMD delays Hammer release

The chipmaker pushes back the introduction of a pair of new processor cores by as much as six months.

John G. Spooner Staff Writer, CNET News.com
John Spooner
covers the PC market, chips and automotive technology.
John G. Spooner
3 min read
Advanced Micro Devices has pushed back the introduction of a pair of new processor cores by as much as six months.

The chipmaker had planned to ship the first of its next-generation "Hammer" family of processor cores in the first half of 2002. "Clawhammer," the first Hammer core, was scheduled for the first quarter of 2002. Sledgehammer, a more server oriented processor core, was scheduled for later in the first half of 2002.

Both have now been rescheduled for the second half of the year, company spokesman Ward Tisdale confirmed Friday.

AMD representatives said the company decided to wait in order to align the Hammer family of chips--which feature the ability to process data in 64-bit chunks--with a new chip manufacturing technology, called Silicon on Insulator (SOI). At the same time, the company plans to extend its Athlon processors well into 2003, instead of tapering them off earlier.

"What this does now is align Hammer with SOI from day 1," Tisdale said.

SOI is a chipmaking technique that AMD has licensed from IBM. SOI aims to increase performance by adding a layer of oxide material between the transistor and silicon it rests on inside a chip. The oxide insulates the transistor from the silicon, reducing the amount of energy lost. The transistor, therefore, can run faster and consume less power.

Still, the delay could affect AMD's attempts to break into the corporate market because one of its most touted technologies--64-bit computing for servers--will be delayed.

AMD recently landed a server deal with NEC in Japan, but has yet to announce wins with large PC sellers in North America. AMD also missed an smaller opportunity to capitalize on a shortage of 1GHz mobile Pentium IIIs from Intel, due to a series of delays on AMD's own mobile Athlon chip.

However, the company will try to make good by extending its existing line of Athlon chips well into 2003.

This is not the first time AMD has redrawn its processor road map. Just a few months ago, the company pushed back the introduction of a new desktop-oriented processor core, "Palomino." The company said it would instead dedicate production capacity to a new mobile Athlon processor, also based on the core. The chip shipped in the first quarter, but notebooks with the chip are not expected until May. Palomino-based desktop chips will not ship until the third quarter.

Originally, Palomino and "Morgan," an accompanying core aimed at low-price notebooks, were scheduled to ship in the fourth quarter of 2000. However, AMD disclosed in November plans to push them back to the first and second quarters of 2001, respectively. The chips were pushed back largely because of issues related to infrastructure. The chipsets that are needed to manufacture notebooks were not available then. AMD said, at the same time, that it had canceled a server chip called "Mustang" because of lack of demand from potential customers.

Analysts said that this time, AMD pushed back the Hammer cores because it felt it could use more time to develop them. The exact reason isn't clear.

"The delay is probably (for) tuning of either the market or the technology issues," said Dean McCarron, principal analyst at Mercury Research. "From a market perspective, there's no rush for (AMD) to get the 64-bit stuff out."

Meanwhile, AMD has disclosed a potential placeholder, "Barton." This new processor core, to be available in desktop and mobile versions, will ultimately be based on Palomino. Barton combines SOI technology with AMD's forthcoming 0.13-micron "Thoroughbred" processor core. Thoroughbred is a successor to the Palomino core.

"What Barton does is extend the Athlon well into 2003 so that the Socket A infrastructure (AMD's method for attaching a chip to a motherboard) is extended out, which gives the Athlon platform stability, especially for the commercial market," Tisdale said.

Commercial buyers "want stability, so we're giving it to them," he added.

AMD has not changed plans for introducing both desktop and mobile versions of Thoroughbred and "Appaloosa," a similar core aimed at the low-cost PC market. Chips based on these two cores are due in the first half of 2002.