AMD Keeps Options Open Regarding ARM Architecture

At a recent event, AMD CEO Rory Read did not commit to using ARM chip designs, but said he was keeping the option open if customers demand it.

Advanced Micro Devices may be more willing than in the past to embrace ARM chip designs to meet customer demand in the booming mobile computing space, the latest example of the company's willingness to change under the leadership of new CEO Rory Read.

During a speech Dec. 13 at the IT Supply Chain conference and in conversations with analysts at the show, Read indicated that AMD has not ruled out adopting the ARM architecture for particular chips if it means being able to get customers what they want.

In what they called a "fireside chat" with Read at the show, Raymond James analysts Hans Mosesmann and Brian Petersen said in a note that Read showed a level of enthusiasm and passion for AMD that had not been seen from a CEO since founder Jerry Sanders ran the show more than a decade ago. The two analysts also noted that if their reading of Read's plans is correct, some of the new CEO's ideas run counter to what Sanders would have done.

That would include adopting a chip architecture that isn't x86, but rather the low-power ARM platform used by such companies as Qualcomm, Texas Instruments, Samsung Electronics and Nvidia and currently dominant in the fast-growing smartphone and tablet spaces. Read apparently wasn't definitive in whether the company will move in that direction, but he did say AMD is keeping the option open.

"Mr. Read (for the first time, we believe) suggested that an ARM-based system on chip (SoC) is not out of the question if that's what customers prefer," the analysts wrote in their note. "Heresy by AMD's historical standards, but quite consistent with Mr. Read's philosophy of winning in the market: execution, innovation, and convergence."

This isn't the first time the idea of AMD embracing the ARM architecture has been raised. Earlier this year, speculation arose when an ARM executive was listed as a keynote speaker at AMD's inaugural Fusion Developer Summit in June. Some saw it as an indication that AMD could be interested in partnering with or buying ARM as a way to gain traction in the mobile device space.

However, John Taylor, director of client product and software marketing at AMD, said there was no deal in the works with ARM, although he didn't rule out a relationship between the two companies in the future.

"ARM sees the world very similarly to how AMD does," Taylor told eWEEK in May. "We're constantly looking at where the market is headed and evaluating what our customer requirements are. ... Clearly there's common ground between AMD and ARM [in regard to] balanced computing and the GPU as the key platform pushing the [computing] experience forward, but not at the expense of battery life."

Read apparently is being much more open about the idea than past AMD CEOs.

"At the end of the day, it has to be market driven and by the customer," Read said, according to a MarketWatch report. "We have a lot of IP and a lot of capability. We're going to continue to play those cards, but as you move forward, making sure that you're able to be ambidextrous is definitely a winning hand."