San Diego, CA — Stephen Shankland and Michael Kanellos report that Advanced Micro Devices has hired SuSE to help bring Linux to its upcoming 64-bit Sledgehammer chip.
The move closely mirrors the approach taken by AMD rival Intel, which has funded VA Linux Systems and has helped other companies bring Linux to its upcoming 64-bit Itanium chip.
Sledgehammer is one of AMD’s most ambitious projects to date. The chip will run software designed for 32-bit processors, such as Intel’s Pentium III and AMD’s Athlon, as well as software for 64-bit chips, a class of processors that includes Sun Microsystems’ UltraSparc, Compaq Computer’s Alpha and Intel’s upcoming Itanium.
Moving to 64-bit chips – as long as there’s an operating system and other software that can take advantage of them – enables the use of much larger databases and other advantages. For this shift, though, the companies have chosen different paths.
Intel has chosen to develop a completely new language, called IA-64, for communicating with Itanium and subsequent 64-bit chips. Sledgehammer, though, uses an architecture AMD calls x86-64, an extension of Intel’s 32-bit architecture.
However, in order to run on these new chips, Linux and its accompanying programming tools must know how to speak the chips’ native tongues. AMD began releasing details on how to communicate with Sledgehammer earlier this week.
SuSE said one of its programmers, Jan Hubicka, has produced the first versions of programming tools necessary to develop Linux and other software for Sledgehammer. Other companies involved in AMD’s x86-64 effort include CodeSourcery, which has experience in programming tools, scientific and technical computing firm Portland Group, and others.
SuSE, a German company that is one of the four major sellers of the Unix-like operating system, plans to hold an initial public offering, chief technology officer Dirk Hohndel has said.
With its primary use on servers today, Linux could provide a new way for AMD to attack the business market.
To date, AMD’s chips have been used almost exclusively in consumer computers. With the upcoming Mustang chip and Sledgehammer, however, the company will try to enter the market for corporate desktops and servers.
AMD is already gaining peripheral penetration into the corporate market. Net Express, a small server and workstation specialist in the San Francisco Bay Area, has sold single-processor Athlon servers running Linux to a number of established companies, said Roland Baker, Net Express CEO.
The 32- and 64-bit designations refer to the amount of data that a processor can handle in a single instruction: The larger the number, the more information the chip can digest in one gulp. With 64-bit chips, server makers also can incorporate much more memory into their machines, the key feature for speeding up access to large databases.
Sledgehammer will use the same basic instruction set as the Athlon but will contain features that allow the chip to run 64-bit programs. As a result, software makers need only retrofit their existing programs, not write completely new ones.
“This is the conservative step approach. It is not a major disruption,” Bob Mitton, division marketing manager at AMD, said earlier this month. “If it’s not broke, why fix it?”