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AMD's New AMDextrous Strategy, Skybridge and Custom 64-bit ARM Cores

AMD Ambidextrous Strategy AMD Ambidextrous Strategy

AMD has long been pressured by many of their investors, industry analysts, and various press to show some more core innovation. Well, today, AMD announced their core innovation update in San Francisco and streamed it online as well. The company came out with all their major executives, including current CEO Rory Read as MC, to talk about their new ambidextrous approach, combining their expertise with x86 with their new found interest in ARM, especially in embedded and servers. The update itself focused around the official announcement that AMD will be licensing ARM’s v8 architecture for their own ARM CPU cores, which comes as little surprise to those following AMD and ARM. It also focused on the fact that AMD will be offering a new platform called SkyBridge, which will be a pin-compatible platform that allows x86-based 20nm Puma+ CPUs to be interchangeable with AMD’s Seattle-based ARM CPUs. This AMDextrous approach appears to be AMD’s new way of differentiating themselves from the competition which are traditionally single architecture.

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AMD’s ARM + 86 expected TAM

Based on AMD’s belief that ARM will continue to grow, they believe that they will be able to capture the largest portion of the TAM in x86 and ARM with an ambidextrous approach. They want to make it clear to everyone that AMD is not abandoning x86 and that they are continuing to push x86 alongside ARM, even if the focus appears to be on ARM right now. They plan to execute on this ARM and x86 strategy through the aforementioned ARM architecture licensing with their custom ARM 64-bit processors and the SkyBridge platform in 2015 that will enable pin compatible x86 and ARM chips to fit into the same platform. Keeping in mind that SkyBridge is coming in 2015 and will not be initially targeted towards servers but rather embedded, semi-custom and possibly client. But AMD really put quite a big focus on ARM CPUs as they even brought ARM’s CEO, Simon Segars, on stage to talk about the importance of AMD’s move towards ARM and ARM architecture and the impressive things they’ve managed to do. This really helped AMD cement the focus of the entire conference on ARM, even though much of what AMD has talked about has been disclosed or leaked well ahead of today’s announcement.

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AMD’s ARM + x86 Ambidextrous approach


AMD further extended their CPU roadmap today by showing us that their plans for their custom 64-bit ARM processors are expected in 2016, which is about 2 years out. AMD also explained, with the help of their Chief CPU Architect, Jim Keller, that they would be building this ARM CPU from the ground up and that this design process is already in-progress. Not just that, but AMD is also working on a new x86 architecture from the ground up, also with the leadership from Jim Keller, which is also quite an undertaking and may be AMD’s attempt to resolve their problems in the high-end performance segment. And with the announcement of their custom ARM v8 64-bit architecture CPU, AMD announced the AMD K12 ARM Core, which is designed to be the follow up to AMD’s Seattle ARM A57 CPU and its lower power brother due in 2015. They are very heavily focused on ARM and wanting to make it clear to everyone how important the ARM architecture is to their AMDextrous approach.


Mark Papermaster talks with Jim Keller about AMD’s new K12 and x86 64-bit CPU development

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In addition to showing off their new ARM CPU Roadmap, AMD also talked about how their new 64-bit ARM cores would work in conjunction with their new 64-bit x86 cores in order to deliver the most powerful ambidextrous solution in the world. Not to mention, currently the only one, as most vendors are either ARM or x86 and don’t necessarily switch between or support the two. Even though, Intel is technically both x86 and ARM since they are an ARM licensee.

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AMD then brought everyone on stage, including Rory Read, Mark Papermaster, Lisa Su, Simon Segars and Jim Keller on stage to answer questions, of which there were many. Some of the questions were about the SkyBridge platform, while others, like our very own Gil Russell, asked about AMD’s planned presence in China with these new products as well as how this announcement would affect SeaMicro, which for the most part remained very much in the back burner of today’s announcement.



In terms of the questions, we learned quite a bit about AMD’s plans for these new products as well as answers to our questions about today’s announcement. SkyBridge, AMD’s ARM + x86 ambidextrous approach will be coming in 2015 as stated in the slides above, however will not come to servers likely until 2016 or later. They are working on the ARM K12 custom ARM SoC based on ARM v8 and that the entire thing is based on a ‘blank sheet of paper’ a term used repeatedly by Jim Keller. Also as stated earlier, they are working on a new x86 64-bit CPU core architecture, however there is no specific name or explanation about it other than we can likely expect it in 2016 alongside the custom ARM architecture. And there was an interesting little note from Mark Papermaster that said that he was surprised that Jim hadn’t asked for more budget from him during the press conference as he and Jim are constantly talking and discussing, this may be a sign that perhaps Jim Keller isn’t getting all the resources he may need to deliver what he wants on time.

AMD also addressed the question about their presence in China by saying that they already have 1,000+ engineers in China and the necessary field applications people in order to make proper use of their presence there. They also said that SeaMicro will have Seattle cores in their servers and that they will be one of the proofs of concept for AMD’s new ARM strategy and which could possibly mean even their new ambidextrous strategy in the future. Finally, AMD confirmed that HSA will be in their 20nm parts next year and that ARM parts next year will be HSA compatible, which was one of the many reasons why AMD had been pushing the new archiectures and new platforms for their ambidextrous approach. One interesting thing was when Lisa Su answered a question about the placement of AMD’s ARM SoCs, she was very clear to say that they do not expect to be in low-cost smartphones, but didn’t really rule anything else out, which means that AMD’s low-power consumer strategy going forward is likely going to be ARM-focused, not x86.

Overall, we learned some very interesting things about AMD today, including some really valuable developments in the new CPU IP area of things. While I still doubt the relevance of their ambidextrous strategy when their x86 share is so low, it may prove invaluable in the future with their newer architectures that are hopefully going to be more competitive with Intel and other ARM vendors.