AMD's Hammer server chips, which will be branded Opteron, are set to arrive in early 2003, said Mark de Frere, 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 after Intel's second 64-bit server chip, Itanium 2. 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 is a departure from x86, based instead on Intel's Epic architecture.
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 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," 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, and Opteron for servers running up to 8-way configurations, SledgeHammer, will both be available in 2003.