AMD Unveils ARM-Based SoC for Embedded Systems

The chip, dubbed “Hierofalcom,” will be aimed at the data center in such areas as communications, networking and storage.

SAN FRANCISCO—Advanced Micro Devices is expanding its chip partnership with ARM beyond servers and into the increasingly important embedded space.

During an event here Sept. 9 on the eve of larger rival Intel's annual developer conference, AMD executives laid out their 2014 road map for embedded chips that includes three x86-based offerings and a system-on-a-chip (SoC) that will be based on AMD's upcoming 64-bit ARMv8 architecture.

Code-named Hierofalcon, the SoC will be aimed at such data center areas as communications, networking and storage, and will not only help AMD broaden its portfolio in an embedded space the executives have deemed a key growth market, but also will give ARM another avenue into the data center.

The announcement comes a year after AMD officials said the company was partnering with ARM to create SoC's based on ARM's architecture for dense, low-power servers for the growing hyperscale data center market, part of AMD's heterogeneous strategy of offering systems makers and end users a choice of platforms.

Like Hierofalcon, the ARM-based server SoC—code-named Seattle—will roll out next year after ARM launches its ARMv8 architecture, which will have key data center features like 64-bit computing capabilities, greater virtualization support and more memory.

Hierofalcon will include up to eight ARM Cortex-A57 CPUs running at up to 2GHz. It also will offer two 64-bit DDR3/4 memory channels with error correction code (ECC), 10G-bps KR Ethernet, PCI-Express Gen 3 network connectivity and support for ARM's TrustZone security technology. The TrustZone technology will be housed on a separate chip.

The ARM-based chip will start sampling in the second quarter of 2014 and go into production in the second half of the year, according to AMD officials.

Executives with both AMD and ARM said the partnership will bring high-end capabilities to the embedded market. Arun Iyengar, corporate vice president and general manager of AMD's Embedded Solutions unit, pointed to numbers from VDC Research that showed that in the $11.5 billion embedded market, x86- and ARM-based chips combined accounted for more than 80 percent of the space, and that those numbers would only increase through 2016, when the embedded market would reach $15.5 billion.

The number of embedded chips shipped will grow 36 percent between now and 2016, from about 330 million units this year to more than 450 million units, according to VDC.

"This is why we're very interested in this market, not only on the x86 side, but also the ARM side," Iyengar told analysts and journalists at the briefing.

Charlene Marini, vice president of marketing for ARM's embedded business, said her company will be able "to bring very low power, cost-effective embedded solutions" to the space.

The two companies are looking to leverage the partnership to challenge Intel's dominance in the data center, particularly in the low-power part of the market. Intel is pushing its low-power Atom platform for microservers and other data center systems. The company on Sept. 4 announced that its 22-nanometer Atom C2000 Avoton and Rangeley SoCs, which will run in a range of systems from dense servers to networking and storage systems, are shipping.

AMD executives have pointed to the embedded market—along with such spaces as dense, low-power servers, ultramobile devices and its semi-custom business—as key growth areas as the company looks to reduce its reliance on the contracting PC market. Company officials expect the growth areas to account for 20 percent of all AMD revenues by the end of this year, and 50 percent within the next few years.

The embedded market becomes increasingly attractive as more intelligence is put into a range of systems in such industries as health care, manufacturing, defense, automotive and consumer products, including wearable devices. They also become important with the growth of the Internet of Things, or in AMD's terms, Surround Computing.

Iyengar admitted that there is pressure on his embedded unit, but noted that a number of executives from other business units "are sharing the burden."

The company in April unveiled its G-Series of SoCs for the embedded space, and then followed that with the launch of its R-Series CPUs, which are paired with discrete graphics from AMD. The company will expand on those product lines next year. Other new chips aimed for 2014 include "Bald Eagle," accelerated processing units (APUs) and CPUs based on the "Steamroller" chip architecture. The "Steppe Eagle" APU SoC will offer improvements to the current low-power G-Series SoC products, while "Adelaar" will offer the first discrete GPU based on AMD's Graphics Core Next architecture for embedded systems.

The 28nm chips are due out in the first half of 2014.