AMD has decided to make its Opteron processor more attractive for embedded devices but more than doubling the time it will support them.

Under a new programme, certain models of the Opteron will be available to system manufacturers for as long as seven years, the same amount of time as the Alchemy and Geode chips that AMD sells for embedded systems, according to David Rich, director of 64-bit embedded markets.

Opteron chips are normally supported for just two or three years, but makers of embedded systems have longer product lifecycles than server or PC vendors and they generally require that the processors they use be available for a longer period of time, he said.

Customers have been interested in using the Opteron outside of the general-purpose server and workstation market since the product was first announced, Rich said. "As soon as we started to talk about Opteron in technical conferences and semi-public areas, we started to get inquiries from CTOs in the storage and communications area," he said.

Opteron uses the same x86 instruction set as Intel's 32-bit processors, but it also has extra instructions that allow it to process data in 64-bit mode, a technique that Intel itself has started to emulate.

The AMD chip's integrated memory controller, which speeds up communication between the processor and memory, and HypterTransport infrastructure, which is used for communication between non-memory system components, make the processor particularly appealing for devices that need to process large amounts of data, Rich said.

Storage appliances and medical imaging devices are two areas where there has been interest in the processor, Rich said. "Many of the high-end applications are as much about moving data around the systems as they are about computing. In the other architectures there were a large number of bottlenecks," he said.

Opteron may be attractive to embedded designers because of its lower power consumption and high bandwidth, said Nathan Brookwood, an analyst with Insight64. "When you put all that together, it makes a very compelling offering, especially for those who are building storage appliances or network-type appliance offerings."

The Opteron 852 and 252 will be the first processors available with the long-term option. Another model, the 152, will also be available under the embedded program when it ships in April, AMD said.