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AMD jumps into ARM server chip market

Posted: 31 Oct 2012 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:server chip makers? SoCs? SeaMicro? V8 core design? 64bit?

Advanced Micro Devices is officially jumping into the pool of ARM server chip makers, ending its long history as an x86 PC chip maker. However, it still remains unclear how far the chip maker goes down the ARM road.

AMD is not designing its own ARM cores initially. It would not comment on whether it will take an ARM architecture license to design custom ARM cores in the future. The decision to use ARM's own core design, the Atlas 64bit core that is a successor to the ARM A15, is apparently driven by AMD's time-to-market goals.

The long-time x86 CPU maker will design a 64bit ARM SoC based on ARM's own V8-compliant core. It will ship both as a merchant chip and in its own SeaMicro branded systems in 2014.

The effort marries AMD's deep server expertise with Sea Micro's unique interconnect fabric to compete in a market for 64bit ARM server SoCs that is rapidly getting crowded. Whether the products will help AMD pull out of its slump in the x86 sector remains to be seen.

AMD last week announced the layoff of 15 per cent of its employees amid 10 per cent revenue declines, expanding its focus on embedded systems. Given AMD's dire situation, it's surprising the company is not moving even more aggressively into ARM-based servers and custom ARM core designs.

AMD reaches a critical juncture
The company's acceptance of ARM architecture will be seen as a major turning point for the x86 processor company. Only time will tell if AMD can eke out a position that differentiates it from many other ARM SoC makers in embedded systems or the emerging microserver market.

Applied Micro is expected to show at ARM Tech Con this week the first working version of its X-Gene, an SoC that uses its own custom V8 core design and interconnect fabric on a single die. AMD's design will also be a single chipincluding the existing SeaMicro fabric chip and the new multi-core Atlas cores with an on-board memory controller.

Meanwhile, start-up Calxeda is already shipping a 32bit ARM server SoC with an integrated fabric. It said it will ship a 64bit version in 2014.

Marvell also is shipping a 32bit ARM server SoC, the Armada XP, being used in systems from Dell and Mitac. Samsung has hired an ARM server design team, in part with ex-AMD engineers, but has not announced its plans.

"It seems to me with AMD's server competence they would have" taken an ARM architecture licence and developed a custom core, said Patrick Moorhead, principal of Moor Insights and Strategy (Austin, Texas). "But they still have a pretty good play here with the secret sauce of their interconnect fabric," added Moorhead. "There are only three processor companies with significant server experienceAMD, Intel and IBMso this brings a lot of credibility to the microserver market, and they are moving forward quicker than some people believed."

- Rick Merritt
??EE Times

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