AMD to drop Hammer on server market

Advanced Micro Devices Inc. (AMD) is poised to strike hard at the server market next year with the arrival of its SledgeHammer and ClawHammer line of server chips.

AMD’s Hammer server chips, which will be branded Opteron, are set to arrive in early 2003, said Mark de Frere, Sunnyvale, Calif.-based AMD’s Athlon brand manager.

Capable of running both 32-bit and 64-bit code simultaneously, Opteron processors eliminate the necessity of having to port 32-bit applications to a 64-bit architecture, de Frere said.

Perhaps more significantly, Opteron processors – like the entire line of AMD chips – are built on standard x86 PC architecture. This not only eases the burden for server makers by taking away the need to redesign server boards for Opteron, but also sets up the possibility for a company to run on a single architecture from top to bottom, de Frere added.

With Opteron, “you can have the same chip architecture in servers, workstations, PCs, laptops, and PDAs, and this makes it possible to have one application and one OS for all your devices,” de Frere explained.

Opteron will hit the market at least half a year after Intel’s second 64-bit server chip, Itanium 2. Although it follows the chip giant out of the gate with its 64-bit chip, AMD believes end-users and server OEMs will opt for Opteron for its advantages over Itanium 2, de Frere said.

Itanium 2, on the other hand, requires that 32-bit applications be ported to it, and Itanium 2 is a departure from x86, based instead on Intel’s Epic architecture, according to Intel.

But Opteron will not compete directly with Itanium 2 because AMD lacks a significant enterprise presence to position Opteron in ultra high-end servers, according to Nathan Brookwood, the principal analyst at Saratoga, Calif.-based Insight 64.

“AMD has a really nice platform architecture for 2-way, 4-way, and even 8-way servers. But for AMD to be successful in selling these servers into a corporate environment they really need to establish a relationship with a company that has a reputation for selling servers into the corporate world, and that is a very short list,” Brookwood said.

Any threat to Itanium 2 from AMD should arrive when AMD successfully penetrates a tier-one enterprise account with Opteron, Brookwood added.

“AMD desperately needs a tier-one customer in the Opteron line. Right now AMD’s OEM list for servers is system integrators and tier-three OEMs, guys nobody has ever heard of, and those guys don’t have access to GM and Dupont,” Brookwood said.

Opteron is capable of running both the Windows and Linux operating systems, and is built to a 0.13-micron transistor architecture. An Opteron for 1-way and 2-way servers and workstations – ClawHammer – will be available in 2003, as well as an Opteron for servers – SledgeHammer – running up to 8-way configurations. AMD’s hypertransport technology will be coupled with the chips which will use relatively inexpensive DDR memory, according to AMD.