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News > Technology
AMD allies with Transmeta
May 25, 2001: 12:15 a.m. ET

Chipmakers will cooperate on next-generation computing architecture
By Staff Writer Richard Richtmyer
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NEW YORK (CNNfn) - Advanced Micro Devices has forged a key alliance in its battle for dominance in the microprocessor market.

Transmeta, a Silicon Valley upstart that specializes in low-power microprocessors, has thrown its support behind technology AMD has developed as the framework for the next generation of computers.

Specifically, Transmeta has licensed AMD's "x86-64" microprocessor architecture and a complementary technology called "HyperTransport," which is used to improve the speed at which data can move between a system's microprocessor and peripheral chips.

"AMD has been executing well," said Fred Weber, AMD's chief technology officer.

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Fred Weber
Chief Technology Officer, AMD
"AMD is also taking a leadership role in a number of technology innovations in a way that has not been seen or acknowledged in the past," Weber added. "And the fact that a company like Transmeta has decided to adopt some of our standards, I think, is an acknowledgement of that."

Both AMD and Transmeta have become increasingly competitive threats to Intel's dominance of the PC processor market. With its "Athlon" and "Duron" brand chips, AMD has been chipping away at Intel's market share for several years. For its part, Transmeta's "Crusoe" processors for mobile computers have prompted Intel to step up its efforts in that area as well.

For AMD (AMD: Research, Estimates), the deal with Transmeta (TMTA: Research, Estimates) marks the first licensee of its x86-64 technology, which it first introduced in August 2000.

Most of today's microprocessors are "32-bit," which means they process data 32 bits at a time. It also refers to the size of the "pointer," which determines how much data the processor can address directly. Current 32-bit processors can address 4 gigabytes of data.

The industry has been gradually moving toward a 64-bit architecture, which multiplies the amount of data the processor can access by four billion.

So far, Intel (INTC: Research, Estimates) has been at the fore of that migration with its "IA-64" architecture, which it co-developed with Hewlett-Packard.

David Ditzel, Transmeta's founder and chief technical officer, said his company chose to adopt AMD's x86-64 architecture over Intel's because it is more compatible with today's 32-bit computing and support environment, where in many cases, upgrading to IA-64-based systems would require large investments in new software as well.

"We think it's a better approach than having to abandon all your software and start over again," Ditzel said.

"AMD's x86-64 instruction extensions provide the best upward compatible path for adding 64-bit address capabilities to the x86 instruction set for the PC industry, and we applaud AMD for taking leadership on this issue," Ditzel added.

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David Ditzel
Chief Technical Officer, Transmeta
As for the HyperTransport technology which AMD claims enables the chips inside of PCs, as well as in networking and communications devices, to share data up to 24 times faster than existing technology allows Ditzel said there were very few choices out there.

According to AMD, which co-developed the technology with API Networks, HyperTransport can transfer data at rates up to 6.4GB per second, a more than 20-fold increase over existing system interconnects that provide bandwidth up to 266MB per second.

"Normally you might look to Intel for leadership in this area, but Intel really hadn't come up with much of anything that looked like a good replacement yet," said Ditzel.

"There was a lot of activity around AMD's HyperTransport bus. We talked to them about it, and it seems like a pretty good bus. So we're throwing our support behind it and saying `this is a great standard,' " he added.

With its support, Transmeta added its name to a list of more than 100 computer and communications companies that have said they will use HyperTransport in their future products. Among the major players participating are Broadcom (BRCM: Research, Estimates), Cisco Systems (CSCO: Research, Estimates), Sun Microsystems (SUNW: Research, Estimates) and graphics-chip maker nVidia (NVDA: Research, Estimates).

AMD reportedly has been offering "practically free" licenses to companies willing to adopt its standards. And while he would not provide the specific financial terms of its deal with Transmeta, AMD's Weber said the licensing fees at this point are not important.

"We see this is as a strategic deal, not a revenue deal," Weber said.

"The importance of this for the long-term is how AMD positions itself as a first-mover in some important new technologies, which is the instruction set of the next generation of computers, especially servers, and the interconnect within those processors," Weber added. "If we do that successfully, then it takes the path of AMD from an alternate supplier to the premier supplier, over time.

"We believe that by bringing companies like Transmeta into the fold on this kind of stuff, we enable a broader set of solutions for [computer manufacturers] and therefore make our solutions more attractive," he said.  graphic

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