AMD Not Closing Door on ARM Relationship

An AMD official said that while no partnership is in the works, the company is keeping its options open in regards to a future working relationship with ARM.

Despite previous reports, Advanced Micro Devices has not closed the door on the possibility of working with ARM Holdings. At the same time, there is no deal that's in the works between AMD and ARM, the dominant player in the mobile chip space.

Instead, AMD officials believe ARM shares similar views on where the industry is going, and at this point are keeping their options open, according to John Taylor, director of client product and software marketing at AMD.

"ARM sees the world very similarly to how AMD does," Taylor said in an interview with eWEEK, noting that both companies believe that the industry can't keep pushing CPU-like cores-such as x86 and PowerPC architectures-without sacrificing energy efficiency.

Speculation revolving around AMD and ARM started revving up late last month after it was noted that Jem Davies, an ARM Fellow and vice president of technology for ARM's Media Processing Division, will be a keynote speaker at AMD's inaugural Fusion Developer Summit June 13-16 in Bellevue, Wash. Davies is scheduled to speak about power efficiency in chips and GPU computing. Some industry observers suggested AMD may be interested in partnering with or buying ARM as a way to gain a significant foothold in the booming tablet and smartphone markets. A great majority of those devices currently are powered by ARM-designed chips made by such vendors as Samsung, Qualcomm and Texas Instruments.

However, those rumors cooled following another news story in which Taylor reportedly shut the door on the idea of the two companies working together, saying instead that AMD had invested heavily in its Fusion APU (accelerated processing unit) strategy, and that initiative was based on the x86 architecture.

In the interview with eWEEK, Taylor said the truth lies in between. AMD is not currently working closely with ARM, but that doesn't preclude the possibility of such a partnership in the future.

"We're constantly looking at where the market is headed and evaluating what our customer requirements are," he said.

Both companies see the potential of GPUs to push performance and scale without driving up energy consumption, and like AMD, ARM supports OpenCl, a type of computing language that allows the GPU to be programmed like a CPU, Taylor said.

"Clearly there's common ground between AMD and ARM [in regards to] balanced computing and the GPU as the key platform pushing the [computing] experience forward, but not at the expense of battery life," he said.

Whether that common ground works its way into a full-fledged partnership remains to be seen, Taylor said.

ARM's profile has grown rapidly over the past few years as sales of mobile devices-including smartphones and tablets-have soared. ARM chip designs are found in the vast majority of these products. That market growth is only expected to continue-research firm Gartner predicts tablet shipments to increase from 70 million this year to 294 million in 2015, while In-Stat is forecasting smartphone sales to rise to 850 million. Those types of numbers are why Intel and AMD, which dominated the market for PC and servers chips, are looking to expand their businesses into these areas.

Intel officials are aggressively pushing their x86 offerings into the mobile arena via their Atom platform. The company last month unveiled the Atom Z670 "Oak Trail" chip for tablets and laid out a roadmap for further chips, including a chip dubbed "Cedar Trail." In addition, Intel on May 4 introduced a new chip transistor technology called Tri-Gate that officials say will enable the company to continue shrinking chips through 22-nanometer and 14-nm manufacturing processes, increase performance and drive down power consumption and leakage, making it an ideal x86 platform to challenge ARM.

AMD has been less aggressive pursuing the mobile device space, though the company next year is expected to release its first x86 chip targeted at tablets, although officials have said the "Brazos" processor, for lightweight laptops and netbooks, also can be used in tablets.

In February, interim CEO Thomas Siefert said AMD is interested in the tablet market, but not the smartphone space.

AMD's Taylor said the company is working hard to fill out its Fusion portfolio, which it unveiled with the first APUs in January. The Fusion APUs integrate the graphics with the CPU on the same piece of silicon, and will be a key subject of discussion during the Fusion Developer Summit. GPUs hold the greatest promise for computing going forward, with their ability to process large amounts of data in a parallel fashion without driving up power consumption, he said.

"These are things that are much more potent and much more power-efficient than their CPU counterparts," Taylor said.

For its part, ARM isn't standing still. The company and its partners, including Marvell and Nvidia, are looking to take its low-power designs into the data center to challenge Intel-and AMD-in low-power servers for such tasks as cloud computing. Analysts at IDC said in a May 5 report that ARM also will make inroads in the PC chip space, accounting for13 percent of the market by 2015.