UPDATE: AMD to launch Opteron in April, Athlon64 delayed

Advanced Micro Devices Inc. Friday ended the speculation over the launch dates for its upcoming chips, announcing that the 64-bit Opteron server chip will be introduced on April 22 in New York.

However, the 64-bit chip for desktop computers will not arrive on schedule. The company has also developed a 64-bit chip based on its Hammer architecture and designed for desktop computers called Athlon64, and that chip won’t see the light of day until at least September, AMD said in a press release Friday. The mobile version of Athlon64 will launch at the same time, AMD said.

“Launching in September allows us to better align the processor with 64-bit operating systems and software,” said Catherine Abbinanti, an AMD spokesperson.

Microsoft Corp. released Windows XP 64-bit Edition in 2001, but it was tailored for Intel Corp.’s Itanium processor, which uses a different instruction set than the Athlon64. AMD and Microsoft announced they were working together on a 64-bit version of Windows for the Hammer architecture in April of last year.

Microsoft’s next server release, now called Windows Server 2003, is expected to become available in April, and a 64-bit version will be produced.

AMD, based in Sunnyvale, California, said it will introduce its long-awaited Barton core on Feb. 10. The Barton core for the AMD Athlon XP desktop processor features 512KB of level 2 on-chip cache, up from the 256KB of L2 cache on current Athlon XP chips based on the Thoroughbred core.

The first Barton chip, the AMD Athlon XP processor 3000+, will be introduced in February. AMD will roll out another Barton chip, the Athlon XP processor 3200+, in mid-2003, the company said.

The Barton core will offer users a performance increase, since the expanded cache allows for more data storage closer to the CPU. Processor design for the 64-bit chips also would allow for faster computing, but to get the performance boost, applications must be built specifically to take advantage of the new architecture.

The benefits delivered by the Barton core allow AMD to satisfy users’ demands for highest performance possible as they await desktop 64-bit operating systems, Abbinanti said.

The launch of the Athlon64, formerly known as Clawhammer, and the Barton chips has already been delayed once, back in September, 2002. Barton will be released conforming to that updated road map, but the Athlon64 was supposed to have been available for sale in the first quarter of 2003, and available in systems by late in the second quarter.

Barton will be available worldwide when it is launched in February, Abbinanti said. A check of industry price guide Pricewatch.com reveals that several distributors are already selling an Athlon XP 3000+ processor for about US$640 in quantities of 1,000 units.

AMD has been counting on the Opteron and Athlon64 to help the company reach profitability in 2003. The chips incorporate 64-bit extensions to the widely used x86 instruction set, as opposed to the RISC (reduced instruction set computing) architecture used in 64-bit chips from Sun Microsystems Inc. and IBM Corp., and the EPIC (explicitly parallel instruction computing) architecture used by Intel’s 64-bit Itanium 2 processor.

This means the chip can run existing 32-bit applications developed on x86 chips from Intel and AMD, while the other instruction sets require code to be ported or a slower emulation mode to run older applications.