Advanced Micro Devices Inc. today fired the opening salvo in the looming 64-bit microprocessor next year against Intel Corp. AMD released the full programmer development specs for its projected Sledgehammer 64-bit MPU, slated to battle Intel's 64-bit Itanium chip in 2001 when both processors hit the market.
AMD, Sunnyvale, Calif., drew the battle lines early by detailing how Sledgehammer will run legacy 32-bit x86 programs concurrently with new 64-bit software, still in development. The processor senses whether the 32-bit or 64-bit mode is needed.
AMD claimed that Intel's Itanium, by contrast, can only run legacy 32-bit programs in emulation mode, slowing performance. Steve Polzin, AMD system architect, also said Itanium will require developers to write completely new 64-bit programs, since the Intel processor isn't backwardly compatible with 32-bit x86 programs in native mode.
The lntel Developers Forum, to take place in two weeks in San Jose, Calif., will rachet up its own campaign to lure developers to write 64-bit programs for Itanium, and for the successor Intel McKinley processor to debut late in 2001.
Availability of new 64-bit applications software is key to AMD and Intel signing up OEMs to adopt their new processors. For the first time, the two archrivals are split on the x86 architecture, as AMD and Intel have gone their separate ways in 64-bit chip design.
AMD got one extra boost today when Sun Microsystems Inc. touted the new Sledgehammer MPU for running Sun's Solaris-based software. Sun and Intel have broken off discussions to adapt Solaris for the Itanium and IA-64 architecture.
The Sledgehammer specs released today includes a compatibility mode to run 16-bit and 32-bit x86 programs without recompilation, and a 64-bit mode. The chip adds eight 128-bit SSE registers for a total of 16, and adds eight general purpose registers for a total of 16.AMD officials said the first Sledgehammer chip to be unveiled in 2001 will be the first in a family of 64-bit processors.