AMD is coming off the back of a bet-the-company reshuffle of management and strategy. And its nuanced position on processor architecture means we are still waiting for the ARM shoe to drop.
SAN JOSE, Calif. – As Advanced Micro Devices Inc. (Sunnyvale, Calif.) emerges from the management revolution of 2012 it is moving quickly to try and accommodate a computing revolution. Part of the revolution is the Internet of things, which AMD says it plans to address, and that surely means that AMD will be offering ARM-based solutions for embedded applications.
Right now AMD isn't saying too much because it does not want to upstage the launch of its first embedded G-series system-on-chip, which happens to be based on a quad-core x86. But as he briefed me on the device, Arun Iyengar, general manager of Embedded Solutions at AMD, said: "We're going to have both architectures. The G-series SoC happens to be x86 based."
Ten years ago it was graphical acceleration that enabled highly visual, interactive computing and digital consumer entertainment, Iyengar said. Now the phenomenal growth of internet usage and mobile computing is changing the landscape again, enabling pervasive connectivity, cloud computing and storage and the internet of things (IoT). And for people this means computing will effectively disappear into the background and become ambient computing or surround computing, he said.
The transition from PC to smartphone would be followed by the move from smartphone to surround computing and that requires IoT. AMD may have missed the first transition but it intends to focus on IoT he said. The trend towards autonomous machines and machine-to-machine communications will require smarter clients, smarter servers and smarter infrastructure but also new processor architectures, he added in his presentation.
It seems clear that Iyengar's embedded solutions division is going to carry a lot of the burden for change at AMD. In sales terms the goal is for embedded and semi-custom designs to be responsible for 20 percent of AMD revenues in 4Q13 up from 5 percent in 3Q12. That's a big percentage jump but Iyengar must hope it will not be achieved by a further collapse of sales into the personal computer market. At some point thereafter embedded applications will be 40 to 50 percent of AMD's revenue based on dense servers, embedded semi-custom and ultraportable ultralow power ICs.
TrustZone, servers, embedded
It has been known for many years that ARM has been courting AMD, and AMD made two announcements regarding its adoption of the ARM architecture back in 2012. Back in June 2012, AMD said it would use an ARM Cortex-A5 core to add TrustZone security to its accelerated processing units (APUs). The second announcement was in October when AMD said it had taken an ARMv8 license and would design a 64-bit ARM SoC that it would ship as a merchant chip and in its own SeaMicro branded server systems in 2014.
But if AMD is serious about serving the broadest embedded space surely it must also offer ARMv7 ARM cores there? I am not saying that AMD has to go after the crowded vanilla microcontroller market. But differentiating, well-targeted ultra-low power chipsets combining CPU, GPU, wireless digital main course with a mixed-signal side-salad are likely to drive, and make money from, the surround computing of which Iyengar speaks.
Iyengar is non-committal: "The embedded division could use the ARM server technology," he said. Indeed it could. But I expect AMD to make further announcements about the adoption of ARM for use in embedded applications sooner rather than later.
Related links and articles:
DESIGN West: AMD launches SoC embedded attack
AMD to integrate ARM core into APUs
AMD eyes ARM IP, realignment
AMD announces ARM server processors