Intel plans secret weapon in 64-bit fight against AMD

25 January 2002 Semiconductor giant Intel is secretly developing new chip technology intended to improve the backwards compatibility of its 64-bit Itanium microprocessors with its 32-bit x86 series line of Pentium chips.

According to a report in Silicon Valley newspaper the San Jose Mercury News, the development of “Yamhill Technology”, as the project is known, represents a “back-up plan” in response to a disappointing reception for its first Itanium server chip, which has difficulty running software written for x86 series processors.

Yamhill technology will be built into the next version of Itanium, code-named Prescott and there will be an option to turn the backwards compatibility on or off. Intel will decide at a later date whether to turn these features on or not.

The project is a reaction to developments at rival Advanced Micro Devices (AMD). AMD is working hard to build more complete backwards compatibility with its Athlon series of x86 compatible microprocessors, as well as Intel Pentiums, into its upcoming 64-bit Hammer microprocessor family.

Hammer is AMD’s answer to Itanium.

However, Intel executives hope that the technology will never have to see the light of day. According to an engineer who worked on Yamhill and who has since left the company, Intel will wait and see how well AMD’s customers receive this capability before deciding whether to include it in Itanium or Prescott.

“I’d presume that they would only begrudgingly do anything with it. It will only be if the competition forces them,” the San Jose Mercury News quotes the engineer as saying.

Intel is concerned to encourage users to program to the 64-bit instruction set in order to make the most of the new chip’s capabilities and to make the transition to 64-bit technology as quick and smooth as possible.

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Ben Rossi

Ben was Vitesse Media's editorial director, leading content creation and editorial strategy across all Vitesse products, including its market-leading B2B and consumer magazines, websites, research and...

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