Cloud Computing, Enterprise

AMD to Launch Hybrid 64-bit ARM, x86 Chips for Servers in 2014 on 14nm?

Back in June, during the AMD Fusion Developer Summit 2012, AMD announced HSA Foundation, with ARM Holdings as a Founder member. As a part of the announcement, AMD Corporate Fellow Phil Rogers stated that the company will integrate an ARM Cortex-M5 core into one of its 2013 low-power processors for "running the security platform". Without any further details given, many analysts and press expect that processor carries a codename "Kabini", which is going to be built on TSMC’s 28nm process.

AMD to develop 64-bit ARM/x86 hybrid processors for servers
AMD to develop 64-bit ARM/x86 hybrid processors for servers

Five months later at the Omni Hotel in San Francisco, AMD’s CEO Rory Read, CMO Colette La Force and Corporate VP Lisa Su made an announcement that starting in 2014, AMD will integrate 64-bit ARM and x86 cores onto a same die, using SeaMicro’s Freedom Fabric. Focusing on the fast-paced server market, AMD plans to compete against 64-bit ARM server chips from Applied Micro, Samsung Electronics and Nvidia.

The company invited guests from Amazon, ARM, Dell, Facebook, HP and Red Hat. Unfortunately, ARM’s CEO had to endure the incompetence of its travel staff that booked him to fly to San Francisco through New York in the middle of the chaos that surrounds the Hurricane Sandy. With 9,000 flights canceled on the East Coast, somehow we feel that it wasn’t the brightest moment of ARM’s trip planners. Thus, AMD will have to get used to the way how ARM operates just as Nvidia, Qualcomm, TI had to. Still, ARM CEO Warren East gave glowing statements in a video taken inside the taxi cab on Heathrow Airport. Quintessentially British.

Why ARM?
Why ARM?

The company will use ARM’s 64-bit architecture, and will combine it with their next-gen x86 cores. AMD did not state which x86 cores will be used, though. The company has two options: hot’n’heavy x86 cores codenamed "Steamroller" or the low-power "Jaguar" cores. According to our sources, we should expect to see a dual-core x86 "Jaguar" with dual-core 64-bit ARM. The codename for this #AMDARM project was "2+2", btw. Naturally, this is not all, as the hybrid ARM/AMD APU will also integrate Freedom Fabric and a integrated GPU (OpenCL).

Freedom Fabric is at the core of AMD's strategy and the key reasons why AMD acquired SeaMicro
Freedom Fabric interconnect is at the core of AMD’s new strategy and the key reasons why AMD acquired SeaMicro

Furthermore, we heard rumors that the company decided to kill their high-performance CPU cores and the Opteron line of products, as it would mean finally giving up on competing with Intel in high performance space, and only utilize its FirePro GPU cores to go against Xeon / Xeon Phi. We spoke with Phil Hughes, who gave us the following statement:

"AMD remains committed to the server market and Opteron. We continue to refine our focus on key workloads in the private and public cloud datacenters and market segments such as dense servers where we can offer unique and compelling solutions."

The unique and compelling solutions is today’s announcement of ARM+x86 parts, that’s for sure. While the company skipped on giving any details out, the 2014 timeline goes perfectly in line with the arrival of recently announced 14XM process at GlobalFoundries. AMD didn’t disclose details about the chips in question, but it is easy to predict that the 2013 will be the year AMD will simply try to remain competitive with Sea Islands and Jaguar/Piledriver-based products, before going all out on its new strategy in 2014.

Our principal analyst, Gil Russell was present at the event and will bring his in-depth analysis in due time. However, this announcement certainly speaks volumes of strategy deployed by Rory Read and its management team – become a competitive SoC vendor and use GPU for high-performance computing. Time will tell if he can succeed in his mission? for the sake of competition, many will hope so.