SAN FRANCISCO — Advanced Micro Devices is "taking a big swing" again with plans for a pin-compatible family of ARM and x86 SoCs in 2015, followed by custom 64-bit ARM cores in 2016. AMD's batting line up is strong, but whether its "ambidextrous" strategy gets base hits, fouls out, or hits a home run remains to be seen.
So far, no OEMs -- including Hewlett-Packard, which shared the stage at an AMD press event here -- have publicly committed to use Seattle, AMD's first 64-bit ARM server chip. The 28nm chip, also known as the A1100, uses up to eight standard ARM A57 cores, but will not be in production volumes until the end of the year.
AMD showed the first demo of Seattle running a full LAMP stack here, something its competitor Applied Micro did in 2012 with its X-Gene chip. A representative of Red Hat said it and others hope to complete by the end of the year the specifications needed so one server version of Linux can run across multiple ARM SoCs.
Sometime next year, AMD will debut Skybridge, a family of 20nm SoCs that put either standard ARM or AMD Puma+ x86 cores in pin-compatible packages. The first parts are aimed at client and embedded systems in BGA and other packages.
The ARM versions will be AMD's first chips to run Google's Android OS, suggesting targets may include tablets. The ARM versions also will support the company's so-called HSA specs for shared memory and queuing between CPU and GPU cores.
Skybridge opens an opportunity for a single board design to service either ARM or x86 software. However, in practice, the bigger door leads to a broader set of power- and cost-constrained applications than AMD previously served.
In 2016, AMD will roll out K12, a custom 64-bit ARM core it will plug into its SoCs. It's an ambitious move given the field is crowded with ten architecture licensees –including Applied, Broadcom, Cavium, Nvidia and Qualcomm – all expected to roll SoCs about that time.
"I re-joined AMD because I love processor design and complicated systems design and AMD was looking at taking a big swing," said Jim Keller who heads up the unified ARM/x86 core and SoC design team. "I love the fact we are in [videogame] consoles, and we were looking at taking a big step forward," he added.
Keller was one of the designers behind AMD's Opteron that beat Intel to a 64-bit x86 with an integrated memory controller. After work in a couple microprocessor startups, he joined Apple where he helped design several generations of the A-series chips in the iPhone and iPad.
Next page: Keller gives few signals