AMD's Windows 7 Connections
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AMD is playing catch-up in two markets. On the CPU side, it's chasing Intel, which has about four times its market share according to IDC. On the GPU side, nVidia leads with about 28 percent share vs. AMD's 18 percent, according to graphics market watcher Jon Peddie Research.
Intel (NASDAQ: INTC) remains a partner of Microsoft and major contributor to Microsoft operating systems. But for a number two company in two markets, AMD (NYSE: AMD) has a lot of sway over the development of Windows, notes semiconductor analyst Nathan Brookwood of Insight 64.
"You'd think Intel would have four times the impact, given it has four times the market share, and if anything it's more like 50-50 or maybe a 60-40 split. So AMD for its size is clearly contributing more than would be expected for its relative position in the market," he told InternetNews.com.
Indeed, AMD's work with Microsoft (NYSE: AMD) traces back to the beginning of the decade, when AMD was first to market with a 64-bit processor, the Athlon. Intel (NASDAQ: INTC) had initially dismissed the need for 64-bits before making the move a few years later.
But for a few years, AMD had the exclusive relationship with Microsoft to collaborate on developing a 64-bit version of Windows for the x86-64 processor. "That started what is a fairly deep collaboration we have with our software engineering folks, to make sure Windows is optimized to make use of all the functions we offer," said Margaret Lewis, product marketing director at AMD.
Add Windows 7 to the mix
AMD noted its contributions to Windows 7 in a recent blog post outlining its involvement. Some of these functions will spill over into Windows Server 2008 R2, which is also due later this year, as it shares many common features as the client software.
AMD worked with Microsoft on power management features that are in both its Opteron and Phenom II processors on things like tune default power policy parameters that control power state transitions to help optimize for power and performance.
"We can create processors that are extremely power efficient but also need to make sure the operating system can leverage and take advantage of those features," said Lewis. "We also need to know what the operating system would like to see us do in terms of power management."
There is also support for virtualization in both Windows 7 and Server 2008. Windows 7 has the XP compatibility mode, which requires virtualization technologies in the chipsets. There are some chips from both Intel and AMD that won't support the virtualization, but most will.
AMD provided nested paging tables code and staffing support to Microsoft to improve the performance of both the Windows 7 virtualization and Server 2008 Hyper-V hypervisor.
On the graphics side, AMD worked on the DirectX 11 so its Radeon GPUs will be ready to fully support the new library when it comes out. Also, the DirectX 11 Compute Shader API will help non-gaming applications use the GPU for graphics acceleration. Apps like Adobe Photoshop and Premier will do transformations and rendering faster.
Brookwood said AMD's relative contribution can't be understated.
"When you compare the relative size of Intel and AMD, then clearly AMD is contributing well beyond its size. They took the lead on DirectX 10, 10.1 and 11. In terms of CPUs, they have contributed substantially in terms of power management, virtualization and various reliability features inside the server," he said.