SAN FRANCISCO -- I’m betting Advanced Micro Devices has or plans to get an ARM architectural license. But the big question is whether it will survive long enough to use it.
AMD staked out the unique position of being the first company designing both x86 and ARM server chips. But it’s a dicey position to be in .
Today Intel sells server chips that cost $2,000 or more. AMD struggles to make a business selling chips that have similar performance at half the price. When we get to the ARM server SoC era in 2014 we may be talking about $30 as a high-end part.
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Ouch! Ask AMD CEO Rory Read how he will ride that water slide and he talks about the move from custom designs to SoCs. Sure, you can turn out more chips faster with fewer engineers when building them out of existing intellectual property blocks. But there are still a few hitches to contend with.
IP blocks often have to be re-jiggered when you drop them into a new SoC, especially if it’s in a new process or linking to blocks other than those in the previous design. That’s especially the case if your company is fairly new to SoC design, as is AMD.
Both Read and his general manager of products, Lisa Su, were clear AMD is not getting out of custom design altogether. AMD will still design its own x86 cores—and I suspect custom ARM cores in the future.
Neither Read or Su would answer a direct question about whether AMD has taken an ARM architectural license needed to design custom ARM cores. But the indication I get from both of them is they will do custom cores, given enough time.
Both execs were clear they will retain custom engineering capabilities. Su noted AMD recently hired processor guru Jim Keller, who has worked both on past AMD Opteron custom CPUs and ARM SoCs.
Custom work is certainly not on the near-term horizon. Initially AMD is just licensing ARM’s Atlas 64-bit core to pack into its 2014 chips. But further out it could get a chance to expand its horizon.