AMD Licenses ARM Technology: AMD Leans on ARM for Security

Subject: Processors | June 13, 2012 - 10:00 AM |
Tagged: TrustZone, hsa, Cortex-A5, cortex, arm, APU, amd, AFDS

Last year after that particular AFDS, there was much speculation that AMD and ARM would get a whole lot closer.  Today we have confirmed that in two ways.  The first is that AMD and ARM are founding members of the HSA Foundation.  This endeavor is a rather ambitious project that looks to make it much easier for programmers to access the full computer power of a CPU/GPU combo, or as AMD likes to call them, the APU.  The second confirmation is one that has been theorized for quite some time, but few people have actually hit upon the actual implementation.  This second confirmation is that AMD is licensing ARM cores and actually integrating them into their x86 based APUs.

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AMD and ARM are serious about working with each other.  This is understandable as both of them are competing tooth and nail with Intel.
 
ARM has a security functionality that they have been working with for several years now.  This is called ARM TrustZone.  It is a set of hardware and software products that provide a greater amount of security in data transfer and transactions.  The hardware basis is built into the ARM licensed designs and is implemented in literally billions of devices (not all of them enabled).  The biggest needs that this technology addresses are that of secure transactions and password enabled logins.  Money is obviously quite important, but with identity theft and fraud on the rise, secure logins to personal information or even social sites are reaching the same level of importance as large monetary transactions.
 
AMD will actually be implementing a Cortex-A5 processor into AMD APUs that will handle the security aspects of ARM TrustZone.  The A5 is the smallest Cortex processor available, and that would make sense to use it in a full APU so it will not take up an extreme amount of die space.  When made on what I would assume to be a 28 nm process, a single A5 processor would likely take up as little as 10 to 15 mm squared of space on the die.
 
This is not exactly the licensing agreement that many analysts had expected from AMD.  It is a start though.  I would generally expect AMD to be more aggressive in the future with offerings based on ARM technologies.  If we remember some time ago Rory Read of AMD pronounced their GPU technology as “the crown jewel” of their IP lineup, it makes little sense for AMD to limit this technology just to standalone GPUs and x86 based APUs.  If AMD is serious about heterogeneous computing, I would expect them to eventually move into perhaps not the handheld ARM market initially, but certainly with more server level products based on 64 bit ARM technology.
 
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Cortex-A5: coming to an AMD APU near you in 2013/2014.  Though probably not in quad core fashion as shown above.
 
AMD made a mistake once by selling off their ultra-mobile graphics group, Imageon.  This was sold off to Qualcomm, who is now a major player in the ARM ecosystem with their Snapdragon products based on Adreno graphics (“Adreno” is an anagram of “Radeon”).  With the release of low powered processors in both the Brazos and Trinity line, AMD is again poised to deliver next generation graphics to the low power market.  Now the question is, what will that graphics unit be attached to?
 
 
Source: AMD