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AMD Blasts Rumors of Dropping x86 for ARM

By - Source: EE Times | B 43 comments

Although ARM thinks it can talk AMD out of using x86, the nation's second largest CPU giant says there are no plans to license ARM's technology.

Recently we learned that AMD will be hosting the inaugural AMD Fusion Developer Summit (AFDS) at the Meydenbauer Center in Bellevue, Washington on June 13-16. The surprising news is that a keynote will be presented by ARM’s VP of technology Jem Davies who will talk about the future of heterogeneous computing and ARM's support for standards such as OpenCL. Now there's talk that ARM is trying to pull AMD away from the ancient x86 architecture altogether.

"AMD is a successful company selling microprocessors," ARM CEO Warren East said in a recent interview. "ARM is in the business of licensing microprocessor designs. It is perfectly natural that we should have been trying to sell microprocessor designs to AMD for about the last ten years. Hitherto we haven't been successful."

But that may change in the near future. "AMD has signaled they are going through a rethink of their strategy, and that must provide a heightened opportunity for ARM," East added. "They might use ARM microprocessors in the future and you've got to expect that we would be trying to persuade them of that."

East speculated that AMD would likely focus on ARM's upcoming Cortex-A15 as a possible license if negotiations were to start today, abandoning x86 and the expense of bringing the chips to tablets and smartphones. He also didn't rule out the possibility of licensing the Cortex-A8 and Cortex-A9 tech as well. There's even speculation that AMD could modify its Fusion architecture to make room for both ARM and x86 cores in addition to the graphics cores.

But AMD doesn't plan on ditching the tried and true x86 architecture anytime soon. John Taylor, director of client product and software marketing at AMD, shot down any rumors of a possible ARM licensing Friday morning, pointing to the company's strong CPU and graphics technology.

"We've made a big bet on APUs, which are x86," Taylor said in an interview.

Next year the company will release its first dedicated tablet chips (Wichita, Krishna) based on the x86 instruction set. These will include up to four cores and combine the CPU and GPU like the Fusion platform. The company is even recruiting engineers to create chipset drivers for Google's Android OS, indicating that any type of licensing allegiance with ARM isn't in the immediate future.

Friday Taylor said that ARM and AMD share a few commonalities, and that is why Davies was invited to speak at the developer's conference in June. Both are developing multicore CPUs and programmable graphics cores, and both also believe in harnessing the combined computing power provided by CPUs and GPUs.

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  • 1 Hide
    hellwig , April 29, 2011 9:56 PM
    Who was saying AMD would drop x86 entirely for ARM? That would be a bit ridiculous. AMD would simply become an ARM manufacturer (like TI, Nvidia, Qualcomm, Samsung, etc..). However, AMD seems to be adamantly denying any desire to create ARM processors, which is silly if you ask me. They need to branch-out, not be tied to x86 and be at the mercy of whatever Intel decides to do next (e.g. another SSE extension). AMD has to hope Intel will even license that tech to them, and then be able to afford it. With ARM, the prices are fair because so many are already manufacturing the chips. AMD has the experience to start making good ARM products and getting those products out there.

    Hell, if Intel weren't so invested in x86 (they have to keep their patents alive), even they might start making ARM processors. Thing is, Intel wants to own the market, you can't own a market making the same thing everyone else makes (which is why they so desperately want AMD out of the x86 business). AMD seems to be trying to follow Intel. At this point, AMD should just be trying to make money. Even when they were better, AMD still couldn't beat Intel.

    Right now, people are buying ARM, it's an exploding market (more people own cell phones than computers). It just makes sense to be in on that market, rather than trying to push the inefficient, long-in-the-tooth x86 on everyone. Let Intel waste their billions on that folly. If Intel carves a market out for ultra-mobile x86 processors, you can serve up your offering. In the meantime, there's no market there, and, sadly, no one is going to follow AMD into unknown territory.
  • 1 Hide
    tacoslave , April 30, 2011 12:00 AM
    the mobile space is what amd should be vying for its the only space that intel hasn't conquered and its going to be big in a couple years. Besides they have the graphics devision to blast anyone(except nvidia but without them it wouldnt be fun :p )out of the water. As hellwig said they should be concerned with making cash not following intel.
  • 1 Hide
    Yuka , April 30, 2011 12:06 AM
    hellwigIn the meantime, there's no market there, and, sadly, no one is going to follow AMD into unknown territory.


    I agree with all, but that lil' statement. From the pure "arch" point, you CAN make CISC (x86 in this case) as light as RISC in power consumption and be close to it in performance IMO (not going into details here, but it can be done, I'm sure). But the thin red line of licensing might be on Intel's way of bringing down x86 into that territory. The closer u're on perf/watt to what ARM has now, the closer you are to their licenses, I'd say. Software wise, I'm clueless about which one is easier/cheaper to develop on; that is, thinking about ultra portables. So, there is a market IMO.

    This is going to be an interesting battle in the coming years, just like when 8086 won back then, lol.

    Cheers!
  • Display all 43 comments.
  • 1 Hide
    deltatux , April 30, 2011 12:26 AM
    I think AMD should keep x86 manufacturing and also manufacture ARM processors for low power clients like HTPCs, tablets, cell phone processors and etc. while still addressing the desktop, server and HPC market with x86.

    Yes, x86 is ancient and it's time for it to slowly die out for a more modern and open design. Even Microsoft realized this when they announced Windows 8 being ported to ARM. Windows NT has had a run in with RISC architectures before like PowerPC, SPARC and etc.
  • -3 Hide
    jkflipflop98 , April 30, 2011 12:38 AM
    hellwigWho was saying AMD would drop x86 entirely for ARM? That would be a bit ridiculous. AMD would simply become an ARM manufacturer (like TI, Nvidia, Qualcomm, Samsung, etc..). However, AMD seems to be adamantly denying any desire to create ARM processors, which is silly if you ask me. They need to branch-out, not be tied to x86 and be at the mercy of whatever Intel decides to do next (e.g. another SSE extension). AMD has to hope Intel will even license that tech to them, and then be able to afford it. With ARM, the prices are fair because so many are already manufacturing the chips. AMD has the experience to start making good ARM products and getting those products out there. Hell, if Intel weren't so invested in x86 (they have to keep their patents alive), even they might start making ARM processors. Thing is, Intel wants to own the market, you can't own a market making the same thing everyone else makes (which is why they so desperately want AMD out of the x86 business). AMD seems to be trying to follow Intel. At this point, AMD should just be trying to make money. Even when they were better, AMD still couldn't beat Intel.Right now, people are buying ARM, it's an exploding market (more people own cell phones than computers). It just makes sense to be in on that market, rather than trying to push the inefficient, long-in-the-tooth x86 on everyone. Let Intel waste their billions on that folly. If Intel carves a market out for ultra-mobile x86 processors, you can serve up your offering. In the meantime, there's no market there, and, sadly, no one is going to follow AMD into unknown territory.



    You are so off the mark on every single point that it's kind of funny.
  • 0 Hide
    memadmax , April 30, 2011 1:26 AM
    AMD's entire history is just intel *clone*......
  • 1 Hide
    hellwig , April 30, 2011 1:44 AM
    jkflipflop98You are so off the mark on every single point that it's kind of funny.

    Let me go ahead and analyze your counter argument ... oh right, you didn't present one. Good job!
  • 1 Hide
    mianmian , April 30, 2011 1:49 AM
    Nvidia already put their GPU together into ARM chips. Now AMD might do that as well. An ARM chip with low power Radeon GPU? Possible.
  • 1 Hide
    greliu , April 30, 2011 2:16 AM
    This is going to seem stupid, but. Why is everyone saying x86 needs to die? I know it's old, but what's going to replace it in the desktop market? I see that ARM makes sense in the mobile and portable scene, but not in desktops. What I'm thinking is that ARM and x86 should be killed and we need photonic processors lol. But, seriously, what's wrong with x86? I'm new to some of this stuff so please be kind lol.
  • 2 Hide
    Yuka , April 30, 2011 2:34 AM
    greliuThis is going to seem stupid, but. Why is everyone saying x86 needs to die? I know it's old, but what's going to replace it in the desktop market? I see that ARM makes sense in the mobile and portable scene, but not in desktops. What I'm thinking is that ARM and x86 should be killed and we need photonic processors lol. But, seriously, what's wrong with x86? I'm new to some of this stuff so please be kind lol.


    Well, there are several factors that make "x86" something you would not be very fond of... The one and foremost is Intel's monopoly (basically) on the licensing around it. So, if it weren't for AMD, it would be a real monopoly; back in the day, as I remember, IBM told Intel to license their tech to another company (AMD) so they could still buy processors from them and have a choice of providers. That's what I remember, could be a lil' different though :p 

    The CISC arch behind x86 itself ain't a bad thing (in itself) at all. It's just different from the RISC behind ARM, but like people stated around, there's a lil' red line between those 2 anyway. But since Intel holds every software around it's proprietary instructions sets (you now MMX is mandatory nowadays? :p ), making "improvements" around x86 is REALLY hard if you're not Intel. RISC has its spawning around IBM, ARM and Sun (now in Oracle's claws) if I recall it correctly (plus ARM licensing to third parties), so you have a lil' more competition behind it.

    That's how I remember it though, feel free to add facts into my memories XD

    So, it's not that "x86 is a bad thing" at all. But (IMO) is kinda boring that x86 is still around unchallenged as a "common" development arch. And that's a Desktop rant anyway :p 

    Cheers!
  • 1 Hide
    Yuka , April 30, 2011 2:36 AM
    Oh right, VIA has some x86 licenses too... Forgot about 'em, sorry :p 

    Cheers!
  • 0 Hide
    c_herring , April 30, 2011 3:04 AM
    VIA also makes the most RISC-like x86 CPUs. Basically, fewer dedicated execution units, I think. Which means it takes more cycles to complete the same instructions as a CPU that has more dedicated execution units, because it's interpreting bigger instructions as a series of simpler instructions. VIA compensates for this by including a few specialized execution units for things like encryption, so their CPUs are more attractive for their intended use in security systems, kiosks, and thinclients.

    This could have gotten really interesting if AMD was going to do Fusion with ARM+Radeon, like how NVidia did ARM+GeForce (Tegra). First thing I noticed when Microsoft demo'd Windows 8 ARM was it's on a Tegra system.

    The low-end could be ARM, with the high-end remaining x86. Unless AMD has little faith in Windows 8 ARM? Granted, they probably know more about it - and most importantly, more about its compatibility or lack thereof with x86 Windows - than we do, yet.
  • 0 Hide
    CarbonJoe , April 30, 2011 3:06 AM
    hellwigHell, if Intel weren't so invested in x86 (they have to keep their patents alive), even they might start making ARM processors.

    Intel used to make ARM based processors (XScale), but they sold that product line off to Marvell.
  • 1 Hide
    ta152h , April 30, 2011 3:46 AM
    x86 isn't an architecture, please stop producing stupid articles that don't know the difference between an architecture and an instruction set. In fact, modern x86 processors don't even execute x86 instructions directly, so their architecture is one level removed from it. Netburst was an architecture. P6(Pentium Pro to Nehalem) is an architecture. Sandy Bridge is a new architecture. K8 is an architecture. x86 is an instruction set with varying architectures based on it. I don't know why this would be confusing. It's quite simple.

  • 0 Hide
    ta152h , April 30, 2011 3:49 AM
    YukaI agree with all, but that lil' statement. From the pure "arch" point, you CAN make CISC (x86 in this case) as light as RISC in power consumption and be close to it in performance IMO (not going into details here, but it can be done, I'm sure). But the thin red line of licensing might be on Intel's way of bringing down x86 into that territory. The closer u're on perf/watt to what ARM has now, the closer you are to their licenses, I'd say. Software wise, I'm clueless about which one is easier/cheaper to develop on; that is, thinking about ultra portables. So, there is a market IMO.This is going to be an interesting battle in the coming years, just like when 8086 won back then, lol.Cheers!


    The 8086 didn't win, the 8088 did. The distinction is important, because one of the main reasons they chose the 8088 was because it was 8-bit externally, and made it much cheaper to implement, while still maintaining the instruction set and huge addressable memory of a 16-bit processor.

    If the 68008 were out sooner, IBM might have made a different choice.
  • 0 Hide
    decrypted , April 30, 2011 4:34 AM
    Cellphone tech has been accelerating at an insane rate. I've already read phones due out early 2012 will be 4 core, 2Ghz+ with 12Mp cameras. As for desktops, I truly believe in the not too distant future (less than 10 years) the core processor structure needs to change. Not just going from 64bit to 128bit, but rather a new ground-up design change. To me the CPU function will diminish with the majority of the work load being handled by GPGPUs.
  • 2 Hide
    blppt , April 30, 2011 4:38 AM
    memadmaxAMD's entire history is just intel *clone*......


    Erm---except for say, a little AMD innovation known as x86-64 which pretty much singlehandedly foiled Intel's plans for Itanium world domination... :) 
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , April 30, 2011 9:14 AM
    x86-64 is what saved AMD from extinction. Intel wanted to drop x86 in favour of their new 64-bit Itanium 'superchip'. By the time they realised it totally sucked, AMD had already gone mainstream with x86-64, forcing Intel to license it from AMD to catch up. Now both companies depend on each other's licenses so Intel can't totally call the shots.
  • 0 Hide
    ceteras , April 30, 2011 9:24 AM
    I wonder who at intel decided once upon a time to sell their ARM division?
    Their xscale processors were ARM-based, but they were intended as replacement for the old i860 and i960 (used in printers, raid controllers and other peripherals iirc).
    That kind of experience combined with current high tech, could have given them a strong advance in mobile market.
    So now intel has to make x86 feasible for mobile solutions, which in my opinion is like trying to fit an elephant in a beetle.
    AMD has always been more versatile and I really hope they will add ARM to their portfolio.
    This would give them more revenues, and a stronger AMD would in the end mean better products from both AMD and intel.
  • 0 Hide
    stoogie , April 30, 2011 10:42 AM
    Why did AMD sell ARM in the first place?
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