AMD HyperTransport innovation opens up CPU sockets to OEMs

Sunnyvale (CA) - Buried a little ways beneath today's news of AMD's new "4x4" eight-way multiprocessor platform - targeted to gamers and enthusiasts - comes word of a new open co-processor platform initiative, of a variety not seen since the early days of Intel 387s. It's called Torrenza, and it represents the company's move to open up the HyperTransport link between processors to the outside world. As a result, according to Tom's Hardware Guide's Patrick Schmid who attended today's AMD briefing, other manufacturers will be able to develop co-processors that utilize the second socket (or third, or fourth) of AMD's new multi-socket systems, enabling graphics or physics processors to communicate with the CPU while bypassing the system bus.

The first phase of Torrenza's rollout, announced today, will enable a new class of chipset that, Schmid told us, could literally plug into an open CPU socket. With "4x4" and other AMD platforms, pairs of dual-core CPUs can be installed together, with "4x4" enabling two such pairs for eight total simultaneous cores. More will follow, says AMD, when quad-core processors are introduced next year. But as an option, Torrenza will empower an OEM to devise a co-processor that fits into the open CPU slot, using the HyperTransport connection to link directly to the CPU.

Although AMD does not state this explicitly - perhaps in an attempt not to offend someone in particular - in bypassing the system bus, one also presumably bypasses the operating system, since no software drivers...or, more accurately, no software, may be necessary to implement such a communications link. The implications of conceivably removing the operating system from the process of managing hardware interactions over the system bus through device drivers, could be enormous. Conceivably, this could pave the way for a virtual system technology for AMD that could rival Intel's VT efforts.

In the next phase of Torrenza, according to AMD, HyperTransport technology will be licensed to qualified partners, who could conceivably become capable of extending the HyperTransport platform through whatever means they see appropriate. One such innovation, AMD said today, is for an expansion slot, which could presumably lead to more slots and more bus-bypassing components in AMD64 systems.

Partners that have already opted to participate in Torrenza, according to AMD senior vice president Marty Seyer in his presentation today, include Sun Microsystems, Hewlett-Packard, and Cray, whose CTO was quoted as playing into that company's so-called "Adaptive Supercomputing" strategy. Also shown were a number of smaller players with big innovations, such as scalable server manufacturer Liquid Computing; storage network bus adapter manufacturer Qlogic; content-aware, knowledge-based parallel processor manufacturer NetLogic Microsystems, and long-time Opteron coprocessor manufacturer DRC Computer. Already, these companies have produced hardware for Opteron server platforms; Torrenza could conceivably open up broader markets for them.

An AMD spokesperson told TG Daily today that technical information about Torrenza has yet to be made available. Formal rollout of the Torrenza platform was projected for the latter part of this year.