April 27, 2011
Processor licensor ARM Holdings is trying to persuade Advanced Micro Devices Inc., the long-time rival to global chip leader Intel Corp. to license ARM processors and use them instead of the x86 architecture.
It is notable that software giant Microsoft and ARM (Cambridge, England) are due to provide keynoters for an upcoming Fusion development conference and that Microsoft recently announced that it would support its full Windows operating system running on ARM processors.
One possibility is that AMD could amend its Fusion architecture to include both x86 and ARM CPU cores plus graphics cores in a heterogeneous multiprocessor. However, it is also possible that AMD may choose to abandon difficult and expensive attempts to develop its own multicore x86 architecture in competition with Intel and, instead, allow ARM to provide its cores.
Speaking to EE Times during a discussion of ARM's first quarter financial results CEO Warren East said: "AMD is a successful company selling microprocessors. ARM is in the business of licensing microprocessor designs. It is perfectly natural that we should have been trying to sell microprocessor designs to AMD for about the last ten years. Hitherto we haven't been successful."
East also said: "AMD has signaled they are going through a rethink of their strategy, and that must provide a heightened opportunity for ARM. They might use ARM microprocessors in the future and you've got to expect that we would be trying to persuade them of that."
East: ATI was ARM licensee
East said ARM's objectives with regard to AMD are broad and would not only focus on Mali graphics processors. Indeed AMD has its own graphics operation having bought ATI a few years ago.
"At the time ATI was actually an ARM licensee for some of its work in mobile applications so AMD did technically become an ARM licensee." Qualcomm then bought the mobile graphics division from AMD for $65 million.
AMD is now a fabless chip company having spun off its manufacturing operations to form the beginnings of Globalfoundries Inc., a foundry with which ARM also works closely.
As a fabless company working with OEMs AMD is obliged to think about the lowest cost and lowest power consumption in terms of the hardware-software combinations it provides and enables.
If negotiations were starting today they would probably focus on ARM's forthcoming Cortex-A15 multicore-capable processor core. But East declined to rule out the possibility of licensing Cortex-A8 or Cortex-A9 to AMD.