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AMD Steers a New Course

February 20, 2012

Author: Kevin Krewell

At AMD’s annual analyst day, its new CEO, Rory Read, delivered an impassioned speech on the company’s future, and the company laid out its roadmap for 2012 and 2013. In discussing the roadmap, Read emphasized that AMD is pursuing what he called “an ambidextrous and agile system architecture.” The company proceeded to open the door for the inclusion of ARM cores and other third-party intellectual property (IP) on its chips. The company did not, however, go as far as announcing an ARM license as some analysts had expected.

In general, AMD’s roadmap did not diverge from the path set down by Read’s predecessors, but the company has only recently added new engineering and operations leadership, so the new team may take longer to plot a different direction. To build a new future for his company, Read added experienced industry veterans Mark Papermaster to run engineering and Lisa Su to manage the business units.

The sole new item was a line of low-power processors designed for tablets. Hondo is a new ultra-low-voltage processor targeting 4.5 watts and is intended to fit into a tablet. Although Hondo consumes over twice the power of a typical ARM SoC processor, it is close to Intel’s 32nm N family of Atom processors (3.5–6.5W), which have served in a few (low-volume) tablets. AMD will offer Hondo in single- and dual-core versions. Depending on clock speeds, the processor should offer better graphics performance and competitive CPU performance relative to Atom.

In its 2013 roadmap, AMD will move nearly all client processors to 28nm technology, with the exception of high-end enthusiast processors that rely on derivatives of 32nm server chips. AMD’s server roadmap includes new products, but the number of CPU cores at each price point will remain unchanged from the 2011 roadmap, as will the sockets and the 32nm SOI process. The 2012-2013 products will rely on the Piledriver core, which has new ISA extensions and slightly improved performance compared with Bulldozer.

The company is creating a consortium under the Heterogeneous System Architecture (HSA) Foundation banner to build a framework to speed the development of heterogeneous applications. Over time, HSA should allow programming models with relaxed programming constraints.

AMD hopes to break out of its unhealthy duopoly with Intel by expanding into other markets. Although it can attempt to differentiate itself on the basis of design and marketing, it cannot escape competing with Intel in the market.