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  Goodbye IDF, AMD's Hammer and more 
  Mar 01, 2002, 12:30am EST 
By: Sander Sassen

Good morning. Yesterday was another innovative day at the conference and we got a chance to see a lot of new technology. One of the most impressive presentations, or at least to my opinion, was the Validation Process Briefing by John Barton. He discussed the effort Intel is making to validate their products; a lot of manpower and budget are put towards making sure all the bugs are ironed out before the product actually ships. Although the presentation didn’t include intimate details about the actual processes used to validate their products the keynote got one thing across pretty clearly; Intel has one of the most stringent validation processes for their products in the industry.

What else? Well, AMD invited us to a private demo they held about two blocks from the IDF conference. Although we were kind of skeptic about them trying to pull people away from an Intel event, the product they demoed was none other than their new Hammer CPU. We accepted the invitation and met up with AMD at a nearby hotel where they had a number of rooms setup with their new Hammer CPU on display.

We were show a number of mechanical samples of the desktop and server version of the Hammer CPU as well as two systems of which one was running a 64-bit Linux OS. Unfortunately AMD didn’t disclose the clockspeeds the Hammer CPUs were actually running at, nor did they want to open the boxes so we could take a peek inside to determine what the actual configuration of the systems on display was though.

Fig 1. The two Hammer demo systems AMD had on display, one featured the SuSe 64-bit Linux OS, and the other was running a 32-bit version of Windows XP. This movie requires the Windows Media player to be installed and requires a broadband connection for streaming playback.

The AMD people were pretty excited about both the performance and the compatibility of the first Hammer silicon, they were also quick to comment that there’ve been very little issues with getting a 64-bit OS such as SuSe Linux or a 32-bit OS such as Windows XP to run on the new CPU, it basically ran out of the box. As mentioned they also had different mechanical samples of the CPU, they differ most in pin-count as the server version of the Hammer will have a 128-bit interface to main memory whereas the desktop version will have a 64-bits interface.

Fig 2. An AMD Solo motherboard with the Clawhammer socket. By the looks of it it will not be a challenge to motherboard manufacturers to produce these in volume. This movie requires the Windows Media player to be installed and requires a broadband connection for streaming playback.

During the meeting AMD also showed us an AMD Solo motherboard which featured the new ‘Clawhammer’ socket for the Hammer CPU. The chipset used is the new AMD 8XXX series that’ll offer a host of new features such as USB2.0, HyperTransport and support for DDR memory initially up to PC-2700 speeds. During our visit we’ve actually gotten into a lot more detail than we can cover in this column so we’ll be sure to follow up with a more in-depth look at AMD’s latest.

One thing actually seemed a little off base to me and that was their claim that the Hammer CPUs first silicon was practically production ready and everything worked as planned when they first flipped the switch. Anybody who has an interest in the semiconductor field, or has an engineering background, will definitely raise an eyebrow, as I sure did. Getting first silicon to work on a whole new process, the Hammer uses a SOI (Silicon On Insulator) process, or any commonly used process for that matter, is something that’s nearly impossible, the odds of having first silicon that’s production ready are one in a billion. Furthermore they also mentioned that the 32-bits edition of Windows XP practically worked right out of the box, which, again, is a little hard to believe as we’re dealing with a whole new architecture, which thus needs a substantial rework of the OS to get it supported and up and running.

However it is good to see that AMD is moving forward with Hammer and is able to show us that they’ve got a whole new architecture ready to launch that’ll make the move from 32-bit to 64-bit CPUs. We’ll have to see however how the actual shipping version of their Hammer CPU is able to compete with the Intel Pentium 4 and it’s deratives in both the desktop and server markets.

Sander Sassen.


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