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AMD is the popular acronym for Advanced Micro Devices. Founded in 1969, AMD
is the second-largest supplier of IBM PC compatible processors, and a
leading supplier of non-volatile flash memory. AMD makes the Athlon and
Duron lines of x86-compatible processors. This is not to imply that AMD
produces x86-specific components, as their more general components have been
found in early Apple computers and numerous other electronic devices.
The company got its start in the microprocessor business in 1979 as a
second-source manufacturer of the Intel 8086 and 8088 processors, under
contract from Intel. AMD later produced the 80286, or 286, under the same
arrangement, but then Intel cancelled the agreement in 1986. AMD then made
its own clones of the later Intel 80386 and 80486 models, which were sold at
a significantly lower price than the Intel versions.
Their first (and, as of 2003, only) completely in-house processor was the
K5, launched in 1995. Architecturally it had more in common with the
newly-released Pentium Pro than the Pentium or Cyrix's 6x86. There were a
number of problems however; a confusing naming system was employed, with
some chips being represented by their true core speed, others with a PR
number. More tellingly the K5 couldn't match the 6x86's Integer performance,
nor the Pentium's FPU performance. This, combined with the fact that the
design scaled badly, doomed the K5 to near-total failure in the market
place. To it's credit though, it didn't suffer from the compatibility
problems that the 6x86 did, and didn't run as hot as Cyrix's chip.
In 1997, AMD purchased NexGen, Inc and the rights to their Nx686 processor.
They rebranded the Nx686 the AMD-K6, and shifted it from a proprietary
socket to Intel's Socket 7 allowing the processor to be used in almost any
Pentium compatible motherboard. The processor used an x86 design which
included several design features common in RISC processors. A year after
that, the multimedia-enhanced K6-2 was released.
In January 1999, the final iteration of the K6-x series, the 450 MHz K6-III,
was extremely competetive with Intel's top of the line chips. This chip was
essentially a K6-2 with 256 kilobytes of full-speed level 2 cache integrated
into the core and a better branch prediction unit. While it matched
(generally beating) the Pentium II/III in Integer operations, the FPU was
really a fifth-generation design and couldn't compete with Intel's newest processors.
In August of the same year, AMD finally took the crown of having the fastest
x86 in the world when they released the Athlon (K7) processor. Except for a
few weeks here and there, AMD held this distinction with later revisions of
the Athlon until October 2001, then held it on and off for the next few
months. Since then, though, AMD's processors have fallen behind Intel's in
frequency and some measures of performance. Even so, many users consider
Athlon or K7 processors superior to Intel's current Pentium 4 processors by
way of a better architecture. However, Athlons are known to have problems
with low-quality power supply units, and have hit severe scaling problems.
AMD's future strategy appears to be diverging significantly from that of
Intel with the release of the 64-bit AMD64 "Hammer" architecture. Whilst
retaining support for the traditional x86 instruction set, the Hammer's
native 64-bit mode is unique to AMD processors and incompatible with the
IA-64 architecture used in Intel's Itanium processor. As a relatively
straightforward extension and cleanup of the basic x86 architecture, from a
technical perspective AMD's conservative approach looks likely to produce,
at least initially, better price-performance than the Itanium and its
successors. Whether system integrators and consumers will risk investment in
a non-Intel architecture is still, however, unclear.
AMD released its first AMD64 processor, the Opteron, in March 2003. The
Opteron is designed for workstation and server systems, including those
containing more than one processor. AMD then released Athlon 64 and Athlon
64 FX in September 2003, and decisively took the performance crown, with
both chips beating the Pentium 4 (and a newly launched high end edition,
Pentium 4 Extreme Edition) in almost all performance tests.