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AMD chips signal new era in Windows shops

The reign of Wintel is ending as more servers appear in Windows shops that are powered by AMD's Opteron processors. One AMD executive talks about how his company is inching onto Intel's turf.

It was once uncommon to see servers running Advanced Micro Devices Inc. Opteron processors in IT shops that heavily favored the Windows operating system. But Windows managers no longer rely exclusively on machines with processors made by Intel Corp. Joan Goodchild met with Barry Crume, AMD's Microsoft Alliance director, at the Windows Hardware Engineering Conference, for his perspective on new trends in Windows hardware, Vista and virtualization.

Barry Crume Your job, as you describe it, is to make sure AMD and Microsoft products work together. What have you been collaborating on recently

Barry Crume: We are helping Microsoft make all their products with a clear bias toward 64-bit and dual core processors. Recently a lot of the emphasis has been on Vista and it has been exciting to have the challenge of solving some of the complexities of developing an operating system. Developing complex code takes engineers a lot of time and [a lot of testing]. Million-line code problems are tough to solve. It may have complexity on the back side, which means you need a lot of computing horsepower. But at end of day, if it is easy to understand, then we have solved the problem.


Crume: With higher bandwidth interfaces, more capable CPUs, more computer power and a certain transparency that comes with compatibility. We are trying to make something complex look easier to the user. Vista is an OS: You are not supposed to notice. It is all about this graphic experience.

What do users need to understand about hardware and chips when they're considering a Vista upgrade?

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Correct components are critical to Vista experience
Crume: The world is transitioning to 64 bit. Everything with an AMD 64-bit logo can run 64-bit Vista. If you have purchased a server with our product since early 2003, you are already ready for 64-bit Vista. If you have purchased any of our desktop products since late 2003, you are ready for a 64-bit version of Vista. It isn't going to be like: "OK, go buy a new PC" -- which I would love. We want to reward our customers from the last few years. But every Premium Vista SKU comes in 32- or 64-bit, at the same price.

It looks like it is shaping up to be a good year for AMD. Last week, Dell said it will sell AMD Opteron Dual Core processor-based servers. This ends what many refer to as a long-running, exclusive relationship between Dell and Intel. Other analysts say it also signals the end to a Wintel alliance. Is this a new era?

Crume: It is definitely a new era for the industry and it looks like the era that preceded Intel's dominance in the chip market.

Intel is still the other major vendor in the chip space, and you will continue to compete with Intel for market share. Virtualization capabilities built into the firmware is a hot topic lately. How does AMD's virtualization technology differ from Intel's?

Crume: We might choose a different implementation of how to solve the problem, but it is all the same problem, which is how to get memory access from a guest OS into the hardware. Many people are running old software. Virtualization allows them to run old software, like Windows 98, but it's so slow.

The answer is to speed up memory and I/O access. Our virtualization support makes I/O and memory access happen more efficiently. So does our competitor. In a few weeks, by the middle of 2006, our entire product line will transition to be AMD virtualization enabled.

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