Sunday, February 05, 2012

AMD open to ARM and other architectures besides x86


AMD may be fully "committed to the x86 market," but that commitment is beginning to look a bit more like an open relationship kind of thing instead of strict monogamy. Speaking last week, AMD's CTO Mark Papermaster (who famously joined and then left Apple) said that AMD would "work with all of the ISA [instruction set architecture] providers" as a part of a new strategy to make bespoke chips for a wider variety of customers. Asked specifically if AMD would consider using the ARM architecture, Papermaster told Wired"the answer is not no."

While that's not necessarily a gigantic shot across the bow of Intel and the x86 architecture, it is a sign that AMD recognizes how important power efficiency has become — and in that regard ARM has fightin' words for the likes of Intel and x86. The fact that Windows 8 will run on ARM processors is another reason to keep a close eye on AMD's next move.

The very intriguing possibility of AMD making ARM-based processors aside, Papermaster's stated goal is to try to make AMD more nimble and better able to create custom chips with modular designs. The chips would combine third party IP from the likes of ARM, MIPS, or PowerPC with AMD's own graphics IP. Until AMD announces some concrete partnerships, however, it's hard to know exactly what types of devices AMD would be targeting. The company would have its work cut out for it making chips for mobile devices after selling its mobile graphics intellectual property to Qualcomm in 2009 — but ARM-based servers could be a viable market.

Nevertheless, AMD has been signaling that it would be redirecting its focus away from taking on Intel directly for some time now, and offering custom chips combined with AMD's graphics matches up nicely with that plan. In the meantime, AMD's 2012 / 2103 roadmapis chock-full of x86 plans, so it may be awhile before we see the company make the turn Papermaster is hoping for