AMD gets Microsoft’s support for 64-bit chips

Advanced Micro Devices Inc. (AMD) is to announce on Wednesday that it has gained crucial support from Microsoft Corp. for its forthcoming 64-bit processor family code-named Hammer, according to reports published Wednesday.

AMD, Intel Corp.’s main rival in the PC processor business, will announce that Microsoft plans to offer versions of its Windows operating system that can run on Hammer, The Wall Street Journal and the San Jose Mercury News reported in their online editions.

AMD of Sunnyvale, Calif., has scheduled a conference call for 4.30 p.m. Eastern time in which it plans to announce “two significant developments” related to its 64-bit processor family, according to AMD’s Web site. An AMD spokeswoman in Europe declined further comment.

Microsoft’s product manager for Windows in the Netherlands, Milo Schaap, said, “We are currently evaluating AMD’s 64-bit processor.” He would not comment on any announcement that may be made.

In addition to announcing Microsoft’s support, AMD is also expected to unveil the brand name for its 64-bit chips, according to the San Jose Mercury News report.

An endorsement from Microsoft would be a big deal for AMD, said Thomas Meyer, research group manager at Framingham, Mass.-based IDC.

“AMD will obviously make a lot of noise about it and it will give them one more operating system that will support their 64-bit processor. It makes little difference for Microsoft, they have always been agnostic in terms of who or what they support,” he said.

AMD’s first 64-bit processors for desktop and notebook computers are due on the market later this year, with server processors scheduled to be available next year, AMD has said. The 64-bit processors, used today mostly in servers and workstations, are more powerful than the 32-bit chips because they process data in larger chunks.

Still, AMD should not expect customers to line up for the new processors, especially in the server space, said Meyer.

“AMD will have to prove that it can do multiprocessing and convince companies that its 64-bit processor actually works and can also run 32-bit applications,” he said, adding that this is a task Intel faces as well, as sales of Itanium have been disappointing. Worldwide, close to 450 servers running Itanium were sold in the fourth quarter of 2001, a fraction of the worldwide server market, Meyer said.

An endorsement from Microsoft, if one comes, could raise some awkward questions for AMD. Jerry Sanders, AMD’s chairman and chief executive officer, testified at the Microsoft antitrust trial last week at Microsoft’s behest. The lawyer for the states suing Microsoft attempted to show that Sanders agreed to testify in exchange for Microsoft’s support for Hammer.

Microsoft has already pledged support for Intel’s line of 64-bit processors.