AMD's plans for its new Athlon processor, formerly known as the K7, became more clearer last week after the company licensed its bus technology to HotRail.
HotRail, a US start-up 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 among those parts of the system.
Thus, processor No. 1 can read data from memory port No. 3, while processor No. 4 writes data to memory port No. 2, all while an input/output controller is writing to memory port No. 4 from I/O port No. 1. In theory, this reduces delays due to arbitration among devices and cache coherency checks.
HotRail, which announced last week 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, told PC Week: "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," he said. "(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 on business desktops.
"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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