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AMD Hammers Home Progress on Opteron, Athlon 64

The chips are barely a year old and already AMD said Friday that is has seen some serious pick up for its Opteron and Athlon 64 products, previously code-named "Hammer".

The Sunnyvale, Calif.-based semiconductor maker said it has secured contracts with RackSaver for its new NemeSys DAW64 design digital audio workstations based on the 64-bit AMD Opteron.

The No. 2 chipmaker also said it has inked a deal with Ontario, Calif.-based motherboard maker SOYO for its SY-K8USA DRAGON Ultra and SY-CK8 DRAGON Plus based on AMD 8151 and nVidia nForce3 Chipsets. The boards both support DDR400, USB 2.0, Serial ATA, 8X AGP, RAID, Firewire, and Gigabit LAN.

But the biggest boost to AMD's Hammer ego is coming out of the Sun Microsystems camp. The Santa Clara, Calif.-based network computer maker said this week that it will begin to port the Solaris operating system for AMD's 64-bit processors with backward compatibility for 32-bit applications.

While Sun has recently produced Solaris OS for x86 32-bit systems, it marks the first time the company has approached Solaris for 64-bit applications running on non-SPARC chips.

In/Stat-MDR analyst Kevin Krewell says Sun's choice helps validate AMD's chips.

"With Microsoft, Linux support and soon to be porting Solaris applications, things are getting really interesting," Krewell told internetnews.com. "It's not there as a 'mission-critical' chip yet, at least not as a true enterprise class processor. That will happen with the customer and top OEM player wins. But compare that to Itanium, which is totally designed for enterprise, Opteron is better designed for the edge and makes for quicker designs cycles. Porting to Solaris will certainly improve that."

At its baseline, Opteron and Athlon 64 chips come with an integrated memory controller -- a 128-bit, dual-channel design supporting DDR266 and DDR333 SDRAM. The chips also offer support for SSE, SSE2, MMX, 3DNow! technology and legacy x86 instructions.

The Opteron series, for example, has 64-bit integer registers, 48-bit virtual addresses, 40-bit physical addresses, eight new 64-bit integer registers (16 total) and eight new 128-bit SSE/SSE2 registers (16 total).

The chips also include AMD's HyperTransport technology to I/O devices complete with three links, 16-bits in each direction. Each supports up to 1600 MT/s or 3.2 GB/s in each direction. Each link can connect to an I/O device or another processor.

The company said the next version of its Opteron Processor (code-named Athens) is not due until the first half of 2004.

Like Opteron, the Athlon 64 desktop series is also built using the 0.13-micron-process at the AMD's fab in Dresden, Germany using silicon-on-insulator (SOI) technology from IBM. The company debuted its 3200+ and a 3000+ topping speeds of 2GHz and an Athlon 64 FX-51 running at 2.2GHz last month at an event in San Francisco. A 90-nanometer-process successor is expected to arrive in 2004.