AMD's plans for its new Athlon processor, formerly known as the K7, became clearer after the company licensed its bus technology last week to Hotrail.
Hotrail, a US startup that has changed its name from Poseidon, specialises in switched fabric technology for symmetric multi-processing (SMP), which the company said greatly improves performance "for processing and data-flow intensive applications."
Hotrail's new point to point, switched fabric architecture, which it calls Simultaneous Switched Matrix, is a high speed crossbar switch for processors, memory and peripherals that delivers data at 3.2Gbps. This acts like a network router for those parts of the system.
Thus, processor number one can read data from memory port number three, while processor number four writes data to memory port number two, all while an input/output controller is writing to memory port number four from I/O port number one. In theory, this reduces delays due to arbitration among devices and cache coherency checks.
Hotrail, which announced that it had secured venture capital funding, said its first SMP products will pass qualification in early 2000 and be optimised for four and eight way servers.
They will be designed to use standard high volume components from commercial foundries with the current 0.25 micron process.
Rana Mainee, AMD's market analyst and planning manager, said: "We always said that over time Athlon would give us the scope for SMP. Over the next year or so, I can see Athlon becoming a platform for enterprise computing."
He said the release of Athlon changed the competitive landscape with Intel: "Whatever our competition is with Intel, there are still opportunities. [Athlon] also gives us far more credibility - Intel doesn't have a monopoly on high performance. Athlon is the next generation core, and [in the near future] Intel doesn't have anything that comes close."
Mainee also challenged Intel's tactic of segmenting the market with different flavours of chips, remarking that although Intel markets Celeron as a consumer brand, it is actually very popular as a business desktop chip.
"Intel tries to position its products very simply," he argued, "but I don't believe the market follows that positioning. Over time Athlon will span all our markets."
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