- For other possible meanings of AMD see AMD (disambiguation)
Advanced Micro Devices, Inc. (AMD) (NYSE: AMD) is a manufacturer of integrated circuits based in Sunnyvale, California. It is the second-largest supplier of x86 compatible processors, and a leading supplier of non-volatile flash memory. It was founded in 1969 by a group of defectors from Fairchild Semiconductor, including Jerry Sanders. AMD's current president and CEO is Dr. Hector Ruiz.
AMD is best known for the Athlon, Opteron, Turion, Sempron and Duron lines of x86-compatible processors. Their more general components have been found in early and current (Mac Mini) Apple computers and numerous other electronic devices.
General history1969 and entered the RAM chip business in 1975. That same year, it introduced a reverse-engineered clone of the Intel 8080 microprocessor. During this period, AMD also designed and produced a series of bit-slice processor elements (Am2900, Am29116, Am293xx) which were used in various minicomputer designs.
During this time, AMD attempted to embrace the perceived shift towards RISC with their own AMD 29K processor, and they attempted to diversify into graphics and audio devices as well as flash memory. While the AMD 29K survived as an embedded processor and AMD continues to make industry leading flash memory, AMD was not as successful with its other endeavours. AMD decided to switch gears and concentrate solely on Intel compatible microprocessors and flash memory. This put them in direct competition with Intel for x86 compatible processors and their flash memory secondary markets.
8086, 80286, 80386, AM486
In February 1982, AMD signed a contract with Intel, becoming a licensed second-source manufacturer of the 8086 and 8088 processors. IBM wanted to use the Intel 8088 in its IBM PC, but IBM's policy at the time was to require at least two sources for its chips. AMD later produced the 80286, or 286, under the same arrangement, but then Intel cancelled the agreement in 1986, and refused to hand over technical details of the i386 part. The growing popularity of the PC clone market meant Intel could produce CPUs on its terms, rather than IBM's.
However, AMD challenged this decision, and subsequently won under arbitration. A long process of legal dispute followed, that only ended in 1991, when the Supreme Court of California finally sided with AMD, and forced Intel to pay over $1 billion in compensation for violation of contract. Subsequent legal disputes centered on whether AMD had legal rights to use derivatives of Intel's microcode. Rulings were made in both directions. In the face of uncertainty, AMD was forced to develop 'clean room' versions of Intel code. In this fashion one engineering team described the function of the code, and a second team without access to the source code itself, had to develop microcode that performed the same functionality.
While Jerry Sanders could have closed the company and retired at this point, that would have been no fun. So instead in 1991 AMD released the Am386, its clone of the later Intel 80386 processor. It took less than a year for AMD to sell a million units. AMD's 386DX-40 was very popular with smaller, independent clone manufacturers. AMD followed in 1993 with the Am486. Both sold at a significantly lower price than the Intel versions. The Am486 was used by a number of large OEMs, including Compaq, and proved popular, but again was just a clone of Intel's processor technology. But as product cycles shortened in the PC industry, cloning Intel's products became an ever less viable strategy for AMD, as it meant their technology would always be behind Intel.
On December 30 1994 the Supreme Court of California finally formally denied AMD rights to use the i386's microcode. Afterwards AMD and Intel concluded an agreement the details of which remain largely secret, which gave AMD the right to produce and sell microprocessors containing the microcodes of Intel 286, 386, and 486. The agreement appears to allow for full cross-licensing of patents and some copyrights, allowing each partner to use the other's technological innovations without charge. Whatever the exact details, no significant legal action has resulted between AMD and Intel since, and it evidently provided a form of 'clean break.'
Their first completely in-house processor was the K5, launched very belatedly in 1995. The "K" was a reference to "Kryptonite". It was intended to compete directly with the Intel Pentium CPU, which had been released in 1993, but architecturally it had more in common with the newly-released Pentium Pro than the Pentium or Cyrix's 6x86, decoding x86 instructions into micro-ops and executing them on a RISC core. There were a number of problems, however. Many consumers were upset to learn the clock speed of their processor did not match the pr rating used to label some of the parts, and this was especially obvious at boot time, when the clock speed was posted to the main screen on many systems.
More tellingly, the K5 couldn't match the 6x86's integer performance, nor the Pentium's FPU performance. AMD tended to use benchmarks for its rating systems that avoid FPU intensive tasks. This, combined with the large die size and the fact that the design scaled badly, doomed the K5 to near-total failure in the market place. To its credit, however, the K5 didn't suffer from the compatibility problems that the 6x86 did, and it didn't run as hot as Cyrix's chip.
NexGen / K6
In 1996, AMD purchased NexGen specifically for the rights to their Nx series of x86 compatible processors. This was a recognition of the fact the K5 had demonstrated that AMD lacked the internal skills, to develop original processor architectures capable of competing with Intel. It is fair to say the technology gained in this acquisition saved AMD, which is somewhat ironic when one considers NexGen had been founded by ex-Intel employees.
AMD gave the NexGen design team their own building, left them alone, and gave them time and money to rework the Nx686. The result was branded the K6. The redesign included a feedback dynamic instruction reordering mechanism, MMX instructions, and added the missing floating point unit (FPU). It was also made pin-compatible with Intel's Pentium, enabling it to be used in the widely available "Socket 7" based motherboards. Like the Nx686 and Nx586 before it, the K6 translated the Pentium compatible x86 instruction set to RISC-like micro-instructions. In the following year, AMD released the K6-2 which added a set of floating point multimedia instructions called 3DNow!, preceding Intel's SSE instructions, as well as a new socket standard called "Super Socket 7", that extended the front side bus frequency from 66 to 100 MHz.
In January 1999, the final iteration of the K6-x series, the 450 MHz K6-III, was extremely competitive 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 a non-pipelined serial design and could not compete with Intel's more advanced FPU architecture. Although 3DNow! could theoretically compensate for this weakness, few game developers made use of it, the most notable exception being id Software's Quake 2.
Throughout its lifetime, the K6 processor came close, but never quite seemed to equal the performance of processor offerings from Intel. While there were brief periods when AMD had an announced clock speed advantage, volume availability of products was typically limited, as AMD suffered from manufacturing and yield problems. Furthermore, having deviated from the official Intel motherboard specifications with the Super Socket 7 format, the motherboards that worked with the K6 were of varying quality, especially as regards implementation of the graphical AGP specification.
Overall the K6 proved popular with consumers, especially in markets outside North America, offering decent performance and a comparatively low price. But the niggles surrounding the platform, and lack of availability for the announced high end parts, failed to establish AMD as a player in the corporate market. Intel responded to AMD's lower prices with the slower budget "Celeron" version of their Pentiums. While the Celerons were not as popular as Intel had hoped, this effectively left AMD struggling with low margins, chasing the low end of the market.
Athlon / K7
It was clear if AMD was to survive, the company had to change strategy. CEO and founder Jerry Sanders recognised this, and developed a famous "Virtual Gorilla" strategy. This utilised strategic industry partnerships, to enable AMD to compete with Intel on a more equal technological footing.
The fruits of this were shown in the August of 1999, when AMD released the Athlon (K7) processor. Notably, the design team was led by Dirk Meyer, one of the lead engineers on the DEC Alpha project. Jerry Sanders had approached many of the engineering staff to work for AMD as DEC wound the project down, in this fashion acquiring a genuine world-class-enterprise-level processor design team, for a bargain basement price.
The Athlon had an advanced micro-architecture geared towards overall performance, with a notably powerful FPU. AMD had also examined the Intel P6 design, and resolved all the issues that caused the P6 pipeline to stall. The end result was, on a clock for clock basis, an astonishing 35% performance advantage. Given the fact that none of the early samples AMD had demonstrated had shown such levels of performance, this sent shockwaves through the industry.
Intel was immediately forced into a panicked internal re-design of the P6 core, which fixed many of the pipeline stalls that compromised its performance. The result was called the 'Coppermine' revision. However, the rushed nature of the work put enormous pressure on Intel's famous manufacturing facilities and, even after it was announced, availability of the improved Coppermine products proved poor.
In comparison, AMD found processor yields exceeded expectations. As a result, AMD announced 900 MHz and 1 GHz Athlons in early March 2000, and delivered them in volume that same month, again surprising the industry. Intel announced a 1 GHz Pentium a few days later, but was unable to ship the part in volume for several months. Working with Motorola as part of the 'Virtual Gorilla' strategy, AMD also perfected copper interconnect manufacturing over a year before Intel, enjoying a clear advantage in manufacturing process technology, further improving clock speeds.
AMD worked hard to increase the reliability and performance of motherboards for the Athlon, with a quality assurance program. Confident with unprecedented control of the performance end of the market, remarkably AMD was able to release a second line of budget processors, based on the Athlon core called the Duron. The combination of these astonishing technical and marketing successes, did much to repair AMD's reputation for making high-performance CPUs, and the long time industry jokes about the company noticably dried up. AMD continued to undercut Intel on price at the low end with the K6, and as Intel suffered part shortages and yield problems, AMD's market share briefly rose to a remarkable 23%.
Athlon (XP) revisions
In 2001, Intel released the Pentium 4 architecture (code-named Willamette) which had a radically different microarchitecture than the Athlon or the P6 cores. While the Pentium 4 sports a higher clock rate, its per-clock architectural performance is inferior. This led some to believe that the Pentium 4 had higher performance because of its higher clock rate, despite benchmark results.
While various industry analysts predicted the P4 would push AMD back to the low end fringe of the market, AMD responded with incremental revisions to the basic K7 core. The Palomino introduced intelligent memory pre-fetching mechanisms, compatibility with Intel SSE, and an on-chip L2 cache. Overall speed improved by about 10%.
AMD also adopted a PR rating for their processors, which would supposedly project the clock rate relative performance of these new Athlons versus the earliest versions of the Athlon. For AMD processors of a given Model number, the comparable Pentium 4 by corresponding clock rate showed rough parity on performance in a wide variety of benchmarks. For this reason, the PR rating system was widely accepted, unlike the K6 system. AMD also made sure the boot screen posted the rated number, and not the actual MHz.
Intel countered AMD by ramping the Pentium 4 clock rate, and for a period AMD struggled. In particular the 2002 130 nm "Thoroughbred" Athlon XP core suffered from unexpected heat problems, and had to be put through a ‘B’ revision, with an extra metal layer to improve heat dissipation. AMD later introduced the "Barton" core, which increased the L2 cache to 512 KB. With each revision AMD did just enough to keep the Athlon performance competitive, and avoid being marginalized at the low end of the market.
AMD64 / K8
The K8 is a major revision of the K7 architecture, with the most notable feature the addition of a 64 bit extension to the x86 instruction set. It was important to AMD, because it marked an attempt to define the x86 standard, rather than follow standards set down by Intel. In this respect, AMD has been successful. In a reversal of the historical position, Microsoft is adopting AMD's instruction set and Intel is left to reverse engineer AMD's specification (EM64T). The K8 is also notable for its Direct Connect Architecture and use of HyperTransport.
The AMD64 project can be seen as the culmination of Jerry Sander’s visionary ‘Virtual Gorilla’ strategy, in which he set a corporate goal for AMD to become a powerful research corporation in its own right, and not just a low margin, low value, commodity clone manufacturer.
The AMD Opteron is the corporate server version of the K8. AMD originally designed the Opteron to compete against Intel's IA-64 Itanium architecture. But the failure of the IA-64 project to leverage volume sales, means it now competes with Intel's Xeon processor. AMD's technical leadership has considerably improved their credibility, and enabled AMD to make increasing market share inroads into the corporate sector.
On May 31, 2005 AMD released its first desktop-based dual core processor family - the Athlon 64 X2. It marks a significant step towards even greater productivity and scalability, especially for multi-threaded software applications.
In August 2003 AMD also purchased the Geode business (originally the Cyrix MediaGX) from National Semiconductor to augment its existing line of embedded x86 processor products. During the 2nd Quarter of 2004, it planned to launch new low-power Geodes with speeds just over 1 GHz.
AMD continues to use industry partnerships as a means to counter Intel’s superior financial resources. Notably nVidia’s nForce2 chipset generated substantial revenues for nVidia as a popular enthusiast part.
HyperTransport is a point to point interconnect standard developed by AMD, and then turned over to an industry standards body for finalization. It is used in the nForce3 chipset. While not intended as a revenue generating product line for AMD, by providing technological leadership, AMD enhances its standing within the computer industry. Again, innovation is key to AMD’s ‘Virtual Gorilla’ corporate strategy.
AMD has also formed a strategic partnership with IBM, under which AMD gained SOI manufacturing technology, and detailed advice on 90 nm implementation. IBM holds many patents on SOI technology, and Intel is reluctant to implement the process for this reason, despite the significant reductions in power consumption offered.
While less visible to the general public than its CPU business, AMD is also a global leader in flash. To compete with Intel, AMD established a 50-50 partnership with Fujitsu called FASL in 1993, with manufacturing facilities in Aizu-Wakamatsu, Japan. In 2003 the long term partnership was merged into a new company called FASL LLC, globally branded as Spansion, headquartered in Sunnyvale, California. Under the deal, AMD took a 60 stake, Fujitsu 40 percent.
The new company sells Flash memory products through AMD and Fujitsu and their respective sales forces. Notable product families include Mirrorbit flash. In periods the flash business has been extremely profitable, exceeding the financial performance of the CPU division, although the industry is somewhat prone to boom-bust cycles. AMD / Spansion claim a number of important milestones in Flash development.
- 1992: "Negative Gate Erase" Technology Introduced
- 1996: Industry's First 2.7-Volt Flash Device
- 1997: Industry's First 1.8-Volt Flash Device
- 1998: AMD and Fujitsu's First Page-Mode Flash Device
- 1999: AMD and Fujitsu's First Burst-Mode Flash Device
- 2001: MirrorBit™ Technology Introduced
- 2002: Advanced Sector Protection Introduced
- 2003: Industry's First 512-Megabit NOR Flash Memory Unveiled
- List of AMD microprocessors, List of AMD CPU slots and sockets
- List of AMD Athlon microprocessors, List of AMD Athlon XP microprocessors
- List of AMD Duron microprocessors, List of AMD Sempron microprocessors
- List of AMD Athlon 64 microprocessors, List of AMD Opteron microprocessors
- List of AMD Turion microprocessors
- AMD Corporate Website
- AMD: 30 Years of Pursuing the Leader
- Silicon Valley InfoZone - Advanced Micro Devices
- NerdyPC - Advanced Micro Devices, Inc. article
- Cpu-collection.de - AMD processor images and descriptions
- Yahoo! - Advanced Micro Devices, Inc. Company Profile
- AMD goes dual-core
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