Business, Hardware

AMD sub-1W Bobcat architecture targets ARM, Intel Atom


It isn’t generally known, but AMD should be credited with the birth of netbook computers. A few years ago, AMD was backing Nicholas Negroponte’s effort to bring his OLPC vision [One Laptop per Child]. The second generation OLPC was supposed to be built upon commercial platform featuring the Bobcat architecture with AMD Tomcat [single-core] and Twincat [dual-core] cores. This would reduce the price of OLPC machine and ultimately drive the price down to $99, Nicholas’s main goal.

It was none other than AMD’s current CEO who failed to understand the implications, but AMD is now certain they won’t repeat the same mistake twice. Bobcat, which is arriving in 2011, is the same Bobcat that was supposed to debut in the 2008/09 frame. A single Bobcat core [Tomcat] is extremely efficient – in less than 1W TDP, Bobcat is bringing "90% of today’s mainstream performance in less than half of the silicon area". The idea behind Bobcat is to offer a complete support for x86 ISA, with SSE1, SSE2 and SSE3 instruction sets, hardware virtualization for high-density server systems and many more.

M-SPACE in 2006, Bobcat in 2011 - AMD's sub one watt architecture is designed for throughput
M-SPACE in 2006, Bobcat in 2011 – AMD’s sub one watt architecture is designed for throughput

As you can see on the picture above, the architecture is very simple, following the base principle of AMD’s M-SPACE concept – throughput. Bobcat architecture will debut as Ontario APU [Accelerated Processing Unit], featuring two Bobcat cores, Northern Islands GPU architecture [DirectX 11.1], all packaged in BGA format. The memory of choice is naturally, low-power DDR3 memory.

Ontario APU is the base for Brazos platform, which Rick Bergman [Senior VP, General Manager] refused to detail citing "competitive purposes." In a nutshell, AMD doesn’t want to give away a platform that is coming out in 2011, given the history of the AMD-backed OLPC- Intel Classmate PC – ASUS EEE 900. In a private conversation, we were told that one of biggest challenges for AMD was the fact that every time AMD would pre-announce something and given enough time "their biggest competitor would take a look at what AMD is doing and with their ‘mountain of resources’ would create a competing part." Then again, that is called competition and if AMD didn’t backtrack on a done deal with Tomcat/Twincat in 2005/06, the history would be different. As the old saying goes; history is written by winners, not by whiners.

AMD's Brazos platform in 2011 - Rick Bergman is keeping it a secret for a reason
AMD’s Brazos platform in 2011 – Rick Bergman is keeping it a secret for a reason

In any case, Brazos will have to fight against Intel’s Medfield platform, the first cell-phone sized platform for the Atom [Medfield SoC is manufactured in 32nm as well]. Hence, we’re not surprised to see AMD keeping a closed lid on Brazos. When the company scores a handset deal, you can bet that AMD will open up.