AMD is changing its chip designs to take advantage of their compute and graphics capabilities using third-party intellectual property
Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) executives are laying out a roadmap for future chips they say will be fundamentally different from larger rival Intel and will build on the work they have done integrating the graphics and CPUs onto a single piece of silicon.
At the company’s annual Financial Analyst Day in California, CEO Rory Read and CTO Mark Papermaster, among the new cadre of top-level executives at the chipmaker, outlined a strategy they call Heterogeneous System Architecture (HSA), which will bring the graphics and compute capabilities on the chip even closer, and make it easier for workloads to take advantage of both.
The executives also said they plan to open up their processors to third-party IP, a move designed to enable AMD to offer customers customised chips when needed. At the same time, the company also unveiled more of the chip roadmaps for the next couple of years, noting that the HSA initiative will begin showing up in chips in force starting in 2014.
The company also plans to roll out the first chip aimed at the booming tablet market later this year, and showed off what executives said was a reference design for “ultrathins”, very thin and light notebooks that AMD officials have said will be slightly larger than the Ultrabooks pushed by Intel but that will come in at lower price points.
The analyst event was the first time analysts and journalists got a clear view of the direction AMD is going five months after Read took over as CEO. Read was hired to replace Dirk Meyer, who resigned in January 2011 after disagreements with the board of directors over the direction of the company, particularly in the mobile computing space.
During that time, Read has revamped the executive team, bringing in people like Papermaster and Lisa Su, senior vice president and general manager of AMD’s Global Business Units. He also slashed the workforce by 10 percent to save $200 million (£127m) in operational costs.
Now AMD is pushing forward with a reconfigured product roadmap and the HSA strategy that executives hope will help it not only break away from its decades-long competition with Intel – what Read reportedly called an “unhealthy duopoly” – but also not get squeezed by ARM Holdings, whose chip designs are dominant in the tablet and smartphone spaces.
The goal of the system-on-a-chip (SoC)-centric HSA effort is to improve AMD’s flexibility and be able to better respond to customer needs, the executives said. A key part of the HSA initiative will be the way the integrated CPUs and graphics will work. AMD a year ago launched the first of its accelerated processing units (APUs), which integrated the two onto the same chip. With these current APUs, the CPU and graphics processors run different applications based on demand.
When the HSA methodology kicks in in 2014, there will be a number of enhancements – such as a shared memory pool, virtual memory and better bandwidth – that will enable software to take advantage of both the CPU and graphics processors.
Enabling third-party IP to be integrated onto the chip will help AMD develop APUs more customised for businesses’ needs, according to Papermaster. AMD is looking to make it even easier to develop for HSA by pushing to make it an open standard, including creating a consortium to manage the architecture. Papermaster said the specifications are being reviewed by technology partners now, and the specs should be public at the company’s Fusion Developer Summit 2012 in Washington State.