AMD Refutes ARM Speculation With x86 Pledge

AMD plans to stick with its x86 chips as it moves into tablets, dashing rumours of an ARM licensing deal

Advanced Micro Devices is going to stay with the x86 architecture as it moves into the mobile device space rather than pursue any licensing deal with ARM Holdings.

Reportedly, AMD will continue to focus on its Fusion APU (accelerated processing unit) strategy as it focuses on processors for the fast-growing tablet space, according to John Taylor, director of client product and software marketing at AMD.

Big Gamble On x86 APUs For Tablets

Taylor told IDG News Service that the company has “made a big bet on APUs, which are x86”. His statements refute more than a week’s worth of speculation that AMD would pursue a licensing deal with ARM, which holds the designs to the bulk of chips being used in such mobile devices as smartphones and tablets.

ARM licences its designs to a variety of chip makers, including Texas Instruments, Qualcomm, Samsung and Nvidia. ARM recently announced a licensing deal with LG Electronics.

Speculation around an AMD-ARM deal was fuelled by a number of sources. One was the announcement by AMD that Jem Davies, ARM’s vice president of technology, will give a presentation at AMD’s inaugural Fusion Development Summit, which will be June 13-16 in Bellevue, Wash. According to AMD, Davies will talk about heterogeneous computing and ARM’s support for open standards, including OpenCL.

In addition, ARM CEO Warren East, in comments during a conference call April 27 to discuss the company’s earnings and in press interviews afterward, said he believed AMD was rethinking its mobile strategy and that it created “a heightened opportunity” for ARM.

AMD and larger rival Intel are the top chip makers in the PC and server space. However, the two x86 processor vendors have little to no presence in the booming tablet and smartphone spaces, where low-power ARM-designed chips dominate. Intel is aggressively pursuing the markets with its Atom platform. On the other hand, AMD has lagged in its interest, though that is beginning to change.

Both chip vendors see an opportunity to expand their businesses into markets that are growing rapidly. Tablet shipments are expected to increase from 70 million this year to 294 million in 2015, according to market research firm Gartner. Meanwhile, In-Stat is predicting smartphone sales will rise to 850 million.

Following Intel’s Aggressive Moves

Intel this month rolled out the Atom X670 “Oak Trail” chip aimed at the tablet space, and predicted as many as 35 designs based on the processor to start rolling out in May. Intel also is readying its next-generation tablet chip – dubbed “Cedar Trail” – to start shipping in 2012, followed in the next year by another processor. Intel officials also have said they expected smartphones powered by their chips to begin hitting the market later this year.

AMD has not been as aggressive, which may have contributed to the forced resignation in January of CEO Dirk Meyer. The resignation came just after AMD launched the first of its Fusion APUs, which offer discrete-level graphics and the CPU on the same piece of silicon. The Fusion strategy has been years in the making, since AMD bought graphics card maker ATI Technologies in 2006. Apparently, that is the direction company officials are sticking with, even in the tablet space.

AMD is expected next year to release its first x86 chip targeted for tablets, though company officials have said that its “Brazos” processor, which was designed for lightweight laptops and netbooks, can also run in tablets.

AMD also reportedly is looking to hire engineers with experience in Android driver development as it steps up its efforts in tablets and smartphones.