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AMD Says It's 'Ambidextrous,' Hints It May Offer ARM Chips 140

Posted by timothy
from the raise-your-arm-shyly dept.
J. Dzhugashvili writes "Today at its Financial Analyst Day, AMD made statements that strongly suggest it plans to offer ARM-based chips alongside its x86 CPUs and APUs. According to coverage of the event, top executives including CEO Rory Read talked up an 'ambidextrous' approach to instruction-set architectures. One executive went even further: 'She said AMD will not be "religious" about architectures and touted AMD's "flexibility" as one of its key strategic advantages for the future.' The roadmaps the execs showed focused on x86 offerings, but it seems AMD is overtly setting the stage for a collaboration with ARM."
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AMD Says It's 'Ambidextrous,' Hints It May Offer ARM Chips

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  • let's hope that... (Score:1, Interesting)

    by w.hamra1987 (1193987)

    this means less intel in the market and more AMD!!!!

    though seriously, how good is the ARM architecture today? havent tried it yet, does it provide comparable performance to an intel processor of similar price tag?

    • by the linux geek (799780) on Thursday February 02, 2012 @04:58PM (#38907623)
      It's a tough question. The Intel Atom has an edge on ARM, but it's not a big one, and while a high-performance ARM chip costs below $20, the Atom is significantly more. On the other hand, right now there are no ARM implementations that are really competitive on the PC front, and probably won't be until ARMv8 (64-bit) chips, or at least until Cortex-A15. A15 chips will probably come out in late 2012 and be a bit faster than the Atom, but a long way from Sandy Bridge and the other current Intel designs.
      • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 02, 2012 @05:08PM (#38907755)

        Its also worth noting that ARM has never been about performance until the semi-recent smart phone (mobile computing) surge. And even today, performance takes a backseat to power consumption. And it is here where ARM has always led the way. ARM vs Intel, ARM provides better price, better consumption, and very competative performance, albeit second place. But given the market to whch ARM is primarily focused on, ARM easily scores the win; in spite of Intels best efforts.

        For those doing more traditional embedded development, Intel's offers are likely front runners. For those participating in the mobile computer segment, ARM, by far, is the very clear winner.

        • by hitmark (640295)

          Seems some are working on bringing ARM into the server rack, and we can see the reason when we read about the kinds of power and cooling issues there are around some of the larger server farms.

          • by nschubach (922175)

            I never understood why file servers didn't use low power processors. Recently we've seen more and more ARM NAS devices, but I figured FTP servers and such would use these "lower end" processors simply because they only need to perform minimal computation to validate users and serve files.

            • by ppanon (16583)
              Well there's always encryption, but they could probably integrate an on-chip co-proc for those functions.
            • by evilviper (135110)

              I figured FTP servers and such would use these "lower end" processors simply because they only need to perform minimal computation to validate users and serve files.

              ARM NAS boxes are a nightmare. Slow as all hell. That's not the kind of performance you want from your FTP server. And FTP servers have generally been replaced by HTTP servers, and a lot of dynamic pages which use up lots of CPU time. But even if that wasn't the case, it's only in Windows that there's a drive to single-task. On any Unix se

        • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

          by Anonymous Coward

          Its also worth noting that ARM has never been about performance until the semi-recent smart phone (mobile computing) surge. And even today, performance takes a backseat to power consumption.

          It was a long time ago [wikipedia.org], but not "never", when ARM was about performance and running circles around the 80286 and 68000 CPUs.

        • For mobile, power consumption has been more of the deciding factor than performance. Atom runs about 3W while ARM can vary from 0.1 to 2W. Also ARM is a little more customizable to companies. With Atom you get something less powerful but more power efficient than a laptop Intel CPU but it's a general purpose CPU. With ARM you get a very power efficient chip than can be varied to suit your needs more.
      • by hairyfeet (841228) <bassbeast1968&gmail,com> on Thursday February 02, 2012 @07:31PM (#38909743) Journal

        The problem with ARM is there are literally millions of x86 programs that have become an integral part of peoples lives, this is also why even though Linux has been getting better each year it fails to find any real gains. Everything from that camera that came with the photo software your Aunt Sue loves to Corel and Photoshop, from that bain of Linux geeks MS Office to Quickbooks/Quicken which is God in small business and rightly so.

        The reason ARM is able to gain so much in mobile is because frankly geeks have never understood how normal users think, as someone who has to understand their needs or go out of business i think i can shed some light. you see to a geek that Droid or iPhone is a general computing device, to a normal user it doesn't even have an OS, its just "A screen with buttons i can google and play games on that I'll chunk when the contract is up" and that's it. they have been conditioned that nothing is compatible so assume when they chunk the phone the only thing they'll keep is the SIM card and that's that. Creates a lot of waste but is great for the carrier. Tablets to the consumer is the same, its a large mostly disposable flatscreen TV that can let them Google. There is no real attachment there, no real desire by the majority to develop long term rapport with programs. this is why ARM netbooks went nowhere because to them a netbook is NOT just a general computing device, its a "baby laptop that should do everything my big laptop does only slower, because babies are smaller than grownups" see how that works?

        I think where AMD is on the right track and has a real shot is Fusion. Not 3 years ago i could walk into the local Walmart or staples and i'd be lucky if there was a single AMD machine, usually the cheapest machine in the house. Now I see AMD Fusion netbooks, laptops, all in ones, and even desktops, some going up to nearly $1000 in price and talking to some of the guys that i know working there they are brisk sellers. More and more the PC is not only the office machine, its also an entertainment center With the AMD Fusion chips not only do you get great battery life/lower electric bills, like my EEE E350 that gets 6 hours playing 720p and lets me HDMI into any 1080p set and watch videos, but you also get to have all your programs that you know and are familiar with and which frankly there is often no FOSS equivalent and probably never will be. There is no FOSS software that matches the features of Quickbooks or photoshop, and certainly nothing like the little quilting app I installed the other day for a customer on her new Acer AMD C60 netbook. while FOSS users would probably think its stupid and not waste time for her its a "must have" because it helps her to work up the patterns she is gonna use on her next quilt and to visualize what it will look like.

        So I think the future is bright IF, and that's a BIG IF, AMD continues to play it smart. the new Vector based GPUs will lower the power footprint even lower while letting the APU use the GPU cores like a super fast floating point which will give any program using floating point a nice kick in the ass, and considering they've had to lower desktop output to keep up with all the orders for the Bobcat chips shows the OEMs think its the right path too. you can now get those chips in every form factor you can name, from HTPC to iMac style to netbooks and laptops. While i'm sure AMD never considered it a desktop chip the OEMs found that its more than good enough for the average user and its selling quite briskly so they made a good call there.

        Finally there is one place where AMD has already fucked up, and that's the recent killing of the entire AM3 [softpedia.com] line. While consolidating to a few chips would have been smart IMHO killing the AM3 Stars chips when Bulldozer has neither the yields nor performance to take its place was just stupid. if you have an AM3 board I'd suggest you pop over to tigerdirect where they are selling Thu

        • by LWATCDR (28044) on Thursday February 02, 2012 @08:09PM (#38910093) Homepage Journal

          "The problem with ARM is there are literally millions of x86 programs that have become an integral part of peoples lives"
          Not really. There are many ARM programs that have become and integral part of people lives. Android and IOS are two big example not to mention the apps that run on them.
          Software is not as locked to an ISA as it once was. Microsoft and Apple have shown that with the move of Windows to ARM and the move of OS/X to x86.
          Applications are not written in assembly anymore they are written in C++ or another high level language. Take your example of Photoshop? Moving Photoshop from Windows to Windows on ARM is probably a much simpler project a Windows and OS/X version. The same is true of Office.

          I do think that AMDs Fusion is interesting but your reasoning on why people will keep use the x86 is not valid. They will only keep using x86 for as long as that is the best solution. IMHO x86 is endanger of being the next PDP-11 or VAX unless it can scale down to mobile and fast.

        • by Nursie (632944)

          The problem with ARM is there are literally millions of x86 programs that have become an integral part of peoples lives, this is also why even though Linux has been getting better each year it fails to find any real gains.

          I'll just stop you there.

          The problem with ARM is that it's not x86.
          Yet Linux is x86 and it's not making any gains.

          I think you might be trying to say that anything that's not Windows on x86 is going to be a failure?

          I wonder, do you have the same attitude to Windows 8's much touted ARM versi

        • by unixisc (2429386)

          I agree w/ this. ARM is an overcrowded market already, and why would someone prefer AMD to an established vendor who's been making it for years, such as TI, Qualcomm, nVidia, Freescale - just about every other big name in the semiconductor industry? Why would anyone prefer AMD to those guys? AMD did a good thing when it first went to the x64, and they can make that a more RISCy CPU over time when memory is never less than 4GB, there are 64-bit versions of most apps and then they can start dropping 32-bit

        • by Svartalf (2997)

          The problem with ARM is there are literally millions of x86 programs that have become an integral part of peoples lives, this is also why even though Linux has been getting better each year it fails to find any real gains. Everything from that camera that came with the photo software your Aunt Sue loves to Corel and Photoshop, from that bain of Linux geeks MS Office to Quickbooks/Quicken which is God in small business and rightly so.

          Really? Millions? You know, using hyperbole is all well and good, but ou

      • by Svartalf (2997)

        Heh... Clock to clock, they're neck and neck right at the moment with the A9. Remind yourself that most of the A9 devices are clocked 1.0-1.2 GHz where the Atoms are all clocked at 1.6-1.8 GHz. There's your speed difference. Power consumption...heh...they're not comparable right now. ARM consumes quite a bit less at comparable clocks to the Atoms. And the A15 changes the name of the game. It kind of pastes the current and the claimed next generation of Atoms in overall performance- and it still keeps

    • by stms (1132653)

      I am not an expert but from what I hear ARM has much more speed per dollar. Though ARM can't match x86 in parallelism.

    • by migla (1099771)

      this means less intel in the market and more AMD!!!!

      though seriously, how good is the ARM architecture today? havent tried it yet, does it provide comparable performance to an intel processor of similar price tag?

      The appeal of ARM is not measured in performance/$, it's about flipflops/wigwam.

    • by Guspaz (556486) on Thursday February 02, 2012 @05:09PM (#38907773)

      The price tag is directly comparable, because ARM doesn't make processors, they sell licenses to designs. The only relevant metric is really performance at a given power point.

      The closest competitor is Intel's Atom chips. At comparable power points, the current ARM chips seem to substantially outperform Atom chips, and the ARM chips scale far lower than Intel's do. It becomes a bit murkier at higher power levels, since until recently nobody was really making ARM chips that high, but we'll see a lot more competition in this field in the future with the ARM Cortex A15, which is intended to be a lot more scalable. The current design is planned to go from 1.0GHz single-core, up to 2.5GHz eight-core, depending on what the integrator wants. On top of that, they've got the new Cortex A7 that they've designed as an ultra-lower performance chip, which is intended to be a much simpler architecture that's still ISA-compatible with the A15. The intention is actually to put an A7 and A15 in the same SoC, so that the SoC can entirely turn off the A15 cores when only low performance is needed (like playing audio or video, since that's done almost entirely on a DSP). This is similar to what nVidia did with the Tegra 3, just taken even farther.

    • by Andy Dodd (701) <atd7@@@cornell...edu> on Thursday February 02, 2012 @05:30PM (#38908085) Homepage

      Much of this is a change of focus... Instead of beefy desktop CPUs running bloated OS, the focus is becoming more on portable devices.

      Basically, this is "We're hanging in there in the desktop/laptop market, but rather than hang on to our piece of a shrinking pie, we want to get in on the pie that's getting bigger".

      ARM is superior in low-power applications. It's highest-end CPUs maybe match Intel Atom, but often have far more peripherals (such as a fairly decent GPU and 1080p multi-format video decoding all on a tiny chip about the size of your thumbnail. Seriously - I can almost completely cover an OMAP4 with my thumb.)

    • this means less intel in the market and more AMD!!!!

      though seriously, how good is the ARM architecture today? havent tried it yet, does it provide comparable performance to an intel processor of similar price tag?

      To answer you directly, no. Not even close. I've read a few articles where folks are hopeful AMD could try to change that. Time will tell, I suppose.

  • PowerPC (Score:2, Funny)

    by MightyYar (622222)

    Apparently they are bringing back the PowerPC for the new Amiga.

  • by mehrotra.akash (1539473) on Thursday February 02, 2012 @04:57PM (#38907593)
    A PC(or laptop) running Windows 8(or any OS which supports both x86 and ARM) powered by a processor having full x86-64 support, and a low power ARM with a GPU capable of basic stuff like handling browsing and media playback
    So, when you switch to a high requirement program (Gaming,encoding,VS,etc) the x86 cores turn on like a coprocessor and the work is handed to them
    The ARM handles the UI and other stuff
    • by scheme (19778) on Thursday February 02, 2012 @05:04PM (#38907693)

      That's tough enough to do when all the processors use the same instruction set, but if the system has processors with different instruction sets, it makes it much harder to have the OS/system switch from a lower powered mode where it's running on the ARM processors to a high performance mode where it's running on the x86 processors. It's not impossible, it's just very complicated and I don't see companies lining up to do the work to implement something like that.

      • We manage to do it for Graphics in laptops (like Nvidia Optimus which shifts to the dedicated GPU when required, and the intergrated one otherwise)
        • by jeffmeden (135043)

          We manage to do it for Graphics in laptops (like Nvidia Optimus which shifts to the dedicated GPU when required, and the intergrated one otherwise)

          That is for just one app, with one bit of specialized code that runs better on the GPU. And it's to do just one thing (arithmetic that the GPU is good at). Finding what operations work most efficiently on ARM vs x86 would be a whole project in itself.

          You would basically need to convince Microsoft (or whoever is the prevalent OS vendor in this fantasy) along with ALL of their partners, to switch to ARM as the primary architecture, and THEN convince them to include additional code types if their apps want t

          • I'll put my $1M in on this one.

            What you need is the ARM core to provide the hypervisor/uefi/bios access with the x86 cores being VM's. You then get the best of both worlds and can easily ensure that the best chip handles the apropriate load. Audio and Video get handled by the ARM core and it's DSP's while the x86 cores handle all of the x86 based software.

            • by Belial6 (794905)
              Exactly. It really is a trivial problem to solve. I am kind of surprised that we have not seen it yet. That would be one place that AMD could really make a splash. Imagine a laptop that had an APU with x86, ARM and graphics on a single chip.
    • by gQuigs (913879)

      Sorta like this [cnet.com]?

      It's not currently available though, and I'm not sure how long it was really available for...

    • Performance-wise, what advantage does this offer over just having a faster x86-64 CPU? I don't see it.
    • by Microlith (54737)

      But which of Microsoft's divergent, self-serving rules regarding Secure Boot apply to a hybrid x86_64/ARM system?

    • by unixisc (2429386)

      I recall that this was tried once in the 90s by Apple - they had a special accelarator card w/ an AMD CPU on it, which would plug into a PCI slot on the motherboard. So one could run native PPC apps on the Mac, but if one needed to run any Windows apps, it could simply be run on the AMD. (I think it was a K5 or something - don't think the Athlons were out by then). Of course, today Apple uses the x86 itself, but any other workstation maker could use something similar.

      Dunno that it would work for tablet

  • by lobiusmoop (305328) on Thursday February 02, 2012 @05:05PM (#38907713) Homepage

    Wondering if a big state-of-the-art chip-fab like AMD getting into ARM processors might make sub-45nm ARM processors a possibility? AFAIK, only X86 chips are made like this just now. Could lead to fantastic performance-per-Watt chips coming off the line.

  • by mark-t (151149) <markt@@@lynx...bc...ca> on Thursday February 02, 2012 @05:08PM (#38907759) Journal

    Does that mean it's using two ARMs at once?

    (duck)

  • by wisebabo (638845) on Thursday February 02, 2012 @05:09PM (#38907771) Journal

    ... would it be possible (or I guess more importantly) worthwhile to put x86 cores WITH ARM cores on a single chip?

    In addition to offering dual boot capabilities, it might be useful to run "Virtual" (or sort of virtual) machines at full speed. I've often thought it would be nice to run some of the thousands(!) of cellphone Apps that I have on my laptop. Although it might be tricky to implement multi-touch correctly, still I'd think there might be some utility.

    Or maybe all CPUs today are very generalized RISCy architectures with everything taken care of in microcode (or maybe nowadays it's nanocode)? That would make it (comparatively) really easy to do, right?

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Koen Lefever (2543028)

      Or maybe all CPUs today are very generalized RISCy architectures with everything taken care of in microcode (or maybe nowadays it's nanocode)? That would make it (comparatively) really easy to do, right?

      Sounds like you are reinventing the Crusoe processor [wikipedia.org].

    • It'd be far easier to do Apple-style "universal binaries" [wikipedia.org] (bundles that contain executables for more than one architecture) than it is to create this kind of hybrid hardware. Apple could already create iOS/OSX universal binaries in Xcode if they wanted to since it can already compiles for both x86 and ARM for the "emulator" and device respectively. The biggest hurdle is the fact that the main control interface (touchscreen) is missing on the dektop.

      • by Belial6 (794905)
        The missing touchscreen is a temporary setback. As is the missing mouse pointer on the portable devices.
  • How will I decide whether I want a right ARM or a left ARM? If they are ambidextrous, will it matter?
  • by moco (222985) on Thursday February 02, 2012 @05:40PM (#38908233)

    Since they have no products using that other architecture I think the word they were looking for is "Bicurious".

  • I'm shocked that the press hasn't gone wild with speculation on the name "trinity" which implies 3 of something. My guesses are as follows:

    1) They integrate CPU, GPU, and "system" on a chip - not really worthy of the name
    2) They integrate 3 distinct CPU architectures in APUs. Bulldozer, Bobcat, Power. Or x86, Power, ARM.
    3) They are aiming for PC, Apple, and Console markets with the stuff in #2 (consoles require Power arch for backward compatibility).

    My bet is that Wii U will have an IBM CPU and A
    • There is exactly zero chance of Trinity being anything other than what it's been announced and demo'd as from day one: L3-less Bulldozer (well, technically Piledriver) with a GPU on-chip. In other words, an incremental successor to Llano.
      • by gr8_phk (621180)
        Agreed. For the desktop PC part. I just figured that was part of a larger picture. The other poster saying it's named after a river in Texas really deflated my hope too.
  • by Tapewolf (1639955) on Thursday February 02, 2012 @06:04PM (#38908559)
    The Tegra is basically an ARM SoC with an nVidia video system. Maybe they're looking at doing an ARM SoC with the ATI video core...
  • ... upgrade the ARM architecture to 64 bit (hopefully, they have some experience in that), put 64 cores of it on one die, and crank the speed up to 4 GHz.

    • by nschubach (922175)

      64 cores at 6.4Ghz running 64-bit code... we'll call it the AMD 262144 processor

    • by LWATCDR (28044)

      For many tasks 64 bit is over rated. Unless you are doing something that needs a HUGE memory space and or 64 bit ints 64 bit code takes up more room and is slower than 32 bit code... If the ISA isn't brain dead and starved for GP registers in 32 bit mode.

      • by ThePeices (635180)

        "For many tasks 64 bit is over rated."
        And as time goes on, that 'many' turns into 'some' and eventually into 'once in a blue moon'. Thats the nature of progress.

        The thing is, many of us actually do need 'HUGE' memory space and/or 64 bit ints.
        this is 2012, and i just need more than 4GB of RAM in my computer.
        - My flight combat simulator gobbles RAM like a crack whore gobbles crack. (DCS A-10) 4GB is simply not enough for this one application.
        - Photoshop CS5 / Lightroom just runs better 64 bit

        • by LWATCDR (28044)

          You can have more than 2/4GB of space with a 32 bit cpu. The limit is on per process.
          I am also into flight sims and they do tend to fit that category.
          Lightroom/photoshop. You bet.

          Now the idea that their is no reason to not run a 64 bit version of the app... If the App will never need the memory space I disagree. Your GTalk client will never need that much space. Your word processor hopefully will never need that much memory. If it does then bloat has gotten out of hand.
          Now on X86 things are different. In th

  • AMD builds a hybrid chip. It uses the ARM core for everyday tasks and then the x86 core when power is necessary. Kind of what Samsung does with their 5 core processor. Add in an AMD graphics core and that would bring some power.
  • I will so buy a bagfull of these chips if AMD follows through on this smart thing. 28 nm multicore ARMs. Booya! Also looking forward to the integrated low power GPU.

  • shirley they meant armbidextrous....
  • by Pulzar (81031) on Thursday February 02, 2012 @09:29PM (#38910795)

    AMD is clearly talking about using both x86 and GPU for compute work vs. focusing on x86 only... the ARM thing is just a wild speculation, or wishful thinking.

  • I think a lot of people mistakenly believe ARM's success is because the instruction set is just better. AMD impleminting the ARM instruction set does not, by itself, suddenly make AMD more compelling.

    The ARM architecture's licensing has allowed a larger variety of companies to get in the game with their own ideas around implementation. This has led to exceeding low prices compared to the levels the x86 solutions have been willing to go, energy optimized designs to target specifically the mobile device mar

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