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Final Thoughts on AMD's Core Technology Update Presentation

Author: Josh Walrath
Subject: Processors
Manufacturer: AMD

Moving Along to 2015 and 2016

2015

This is the year that we will start to see some serious shifts from AMD when it comes to supporting ARM.  They announced their Project Skybridge initiative that will enable the sharing of the same socket with an x86 processor as well as an ARM based processor.  This looks like it will be an extension of the current AM1 socket that currently houses the low power Kabini products.

On the x86 side we will see the introduction of a 20 nm based product based on the Puma+ architecture.  Puma is the basis of the current Beema/Mullins parts.  These will be low power products that will be true SOCs, just as the current AM1 Kabinis are.  These apparently will encompass full HSA functionality with the latest GCN based graphics cores.  These will not be high performance cores, but rather will be aimed at the low power/energy efficient market.

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The ARM side gets a bit more interesting.  AMD will go over the Cortex A57 cores with a fine toothed comb and implement as many power saving tricks to make this a much more efficient core than what ARM is licensing to its other partners.  This seems to be AMD’s way of dipping their toes into designing their own ARM cores.  This could actually be the first ARM core that will fully implement HSA functionality.  AMD will be combining their A57 design with the latest generation GCN architecture to enable HSA.

AMD will have two separate 64 bit architectures that will fit into the same socket.  This will allow quite a bit of flexibility for the company when selling these products to end users.  AMD will have a unified socket architecture that will support these very different parts.  This is a net positive for the company as they will have a solid foundation for these products since they share the same infrastructure.  For consumers this means they have some decent options for how they want to implement their end solution.  I am not talking buyers off of Newegg, but rather groups higher up the food chain that will provide their end users with customized, low power solutions that can address the Windows/Linux/Android environments.

AMD’s ARM offering is a taste of things to come.  AMD will work hard to fully integrate their semi-custom A57 product into the HSA fold.  It is a good starting point for the company and developing a workflow and gather traces of what ARM is good (and not so good) at.

 

2016

This looks to be a year the rubber really meets the road.  Just as we were promised “Fusion” from when AMD bought ATI in 2006, AMD is promising two entirely new architectures to address multiple markets, all featuring HSA functionality.

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AMD has made the jump from being a licensee of specific cores to being a licensee of the entire ISA.  AMD is now standing on the same ground as Qualcomm, NVIDIA, Samsung, and a select few others.  They are able to custom design their own ARMv8 based cores that will differ significantly from what ARM and its other partners offer.  This allows AMD a lot of leeway to implement new features and structures that could give it an edge.

We do not know much about AMD’s ARM design other than it is codenamed K12.  We have no idea what kind of power range this product will span, but my guess is that it will be relatively low powered.  Think 65 watts and below.  AMD does not list “High Performance Server” or “High Performance Desktop” as targets for this chip.  Instead, they are looking at dense server, embedded, semi-custom, and ultra-low power client.

x86 is also getting attention here with a brand new core that will also be introduced in 2016.  There is no code name attributed to this product, but it appears to be stepping away from the Bulldozer architecture that didn’t turn out to be as shiny for AMD as they had hoped.  Jim Keller is heading the teams that are designing both the new ARM and x86 cores.  He was one of the brains behind the original Athlon and Athlon 64 and left the company right before the A64 was released.  AMD has a lot of design experience with solid IPC/low power designs (Jaguar, Puma+) as well as being able to clock products up fairly high (current Vishera, Steamroller cores).  This new core will also have to stretch from top to bottom in terms of power consumption.  I highly doubt we will ever see a 125 watt TDP desktop processor from AMD again, but we might see one in the 65 to 95 watt range.

AMD has proven to be a resilient company in the face of some serious financial hardships.  Rory and his band of merry executives have really turned the company around.  This turnaround has a price though.  AMD is no longer competing with Intel on the high end/high performance x86 markets.  I doubt AMD will ever produce another FX-8000 or FX-9000 type of part ever again.  From here on out it looks like much more power efficient APUs will be the desktop offerings.  We can only hope that AMD reaches the same level of IPC and power efficiency that Intel has with Haswell.  AM3+ is the last socket of its kind, and from here on out we will have products that will have to fit in FM2+’s 100 watt TDP envelope.

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Now, we have to wonder if the Excavator core will ever see the light of day?  We will see Excavator based APUs in 2015, but how far will AMD go with this family of products?  Roadmaps that we have previously seen may in fact be obsolete with where the company is moving.  AMD has wisely decided to stop competing with Intel exclusively, and instead is competing against all of the ARM partners as well.  This strategy does have its risks, but AMD is in a better position to compete against the likes of Qualcomm, Samsung, and others.  They have certainly trained well for this new market, considering that they have survived (and at times thrived) some forty years while going head-to-head against the 800 pound gorilla of the semiconductor world.

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May 14, 2014 | 11:26 PM - Posted by John Freiman (not verified)

Good article.

May 14, 2014 | 11:26 PM - Posted by John Freiman (not verified)

Good article.

May 15, 2014 | 03:39 AM - Posted by SirRoderick (not verified)

I do wonder where this leaves the high-end desktop market...a monopoly by Intel? They'd be the only company providing high performance CPU parts for workstations, gaming rigs and the like.

May 15, 2014 | 05:27 AM - Posted by dragosmp (not verified)

For workstations, aside from a few isolated cases in the low cost space, there has always been only Intel. I really hope they continue to improve IPC as my productivity rises linearly with the single-threaded speed of the CPU.

For gaming @1080p my Phenom II is still good, the rig is quite often GPU-limited with the 7950. Sure, an i7 4770 might be a bit faster, but we can argue that the speed of the CPU (or the single-threaded speed) is not critical and should become even less important unless we're talking about Atom/Kabini type of CPUs with the advent of Mantle / Dx12.

May 15, 2014 | 08:12 AM - Posted by John H (not verified)

Very good article Josh. And interesting on the shared socket - Intel never quite got there with Itanium and x86..

I'm curious - any hints on where the engineering resources are coming from for handling both cores? As recently as a year ago, it appeared AMD had two major engineering teams on CPUs: The small x86 cores and the big x86 cores..

This roadmap shows further development on their small cores, and does not directly talk about the big cores.. BUT rumor has it AMD is working on a next gen "bigger" x86 core for 2016, so curious if the ARM cores are intended to eventually replace their small cores, or does AMD end up with two smaller cores for the mid future (ARM and puma-derived x86)?

May 15, 2014 | 11:32 AM - Posted by Josh Walrath

Not sure how they have reallocated engineering teams, but I guess that they have primarily just cut down the amount of products they are pushing.  "Big Core" style processors like the AM3+ and Piledriver based Opterons are fading away and no new development is happening there.  So essentially we have the big APU, small APU, and ARM products for the next two years.  After that I wonder if the new x86 core will be able to fit all of those markets, leaving only that core and the new ARM units?  Sure does seem like AMD is doing a bunch of consolidation of their product stack.

May 15, 2014 | 08:28 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

With the Power8 ISA/IP up for ARM style licensing, Apple could very well replace those Xeon CPUs in its Mac Pros with a Power8 server CPUs, and Power8 is not the same as PowerPC. Power8, and an ARM style of economy of scale, and being produced by Samsung, AMD, and others who can now License Power8 ISA/designs from IBM, will have a Xeon beating CPU for workstations/Big Iron server farms, with the Power8's ability to outperform Xeon. AMD will be smart to get Power8 as an option, to go along with its own custom ARMv8 designs, and its new x86 microarchitecture, and with AMDs chip skills, those Power8 cores could be made HSA aware also with AMD graphics. I am sure Apple could fund a Power8 customization project and use AMD as a subcontractor for a custom Power8 SKU, with on module graphics DIEs and uber wide data paths/fabrics (Nvidia is working on something like this for IBM servers) to that graphics for Apple's Mac Pro line of workstations, others. AMD's low cost x86 server products will sale very well, with Power8 taking over the heavy hitting in the server rooms, and AMD's custom ARMv8 in there also handeling low power server workloads. AMD should become a CPU company, and not an just x86 ISA company, but a company with the right ISA for whatever job needs to be done. With all these CPUs ISAs/IP up for license the CPU customization business is going to bring in Billions, just look at AMD's custom console business and multiply that by a thousand or more.

May 15, 2014 | 11:39 AM - Posted by mAxius

Yet another very good article Josh. The future for amd looks very bright indeed if they can pull everything off. I can not wait to hear more about the x86 core that is coming.

May 15, 2014 | 06:54 PM - Posted by JohnGR

So, let's say that I am buying a future AM1 board. The 2016 model perhaps.
Am I going to have the choice between buying an APU with X86 cores to run my Windows OS or an APU with ARM cores to run my Android OS? I am talking about one motherboard and two different APU models that use the same socket and can be identified and used by that one board.

December 4, 2014 | 02:41 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Android OS on PC? Why, for what?

If you really need an ability to use Android OS on PC, its better to stick to some Android emulator (e.g. Bluestacks App Player) Android doesn't really allow to do a lot of "desktop-class" things like software programming and power computing, its simply not suited for PCs

May 16, 2014 | 09:58 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

The slide says that dense server, embedded, semi-custom, and ultra-low power client are targets for both x86 and ARM cores.

May 17, 2014 | 01:53 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

They have Mantle to make up for the somewhat lackluster performance of the FXs in terms of single threaded heavy games. FX can stood on its own against intel when it comes to non-gaming. So no, they're still fine on the desktop department.

May 30, 2014 | 01:41 AM - Posted by arief (not verified)

Those mantel on android would bring console like performance. This thing is too good to be true.

March 30, 2015 | 01:20 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

ARM != Android, you can run versions of the android OS on x86 procs, Windows RT can run on ARM processors, and pretty much any version of Linux will have an ARM variant. As others have mentioned loading up Android on a desktop PC would be terribly limiting, as would Windows RT, which is designed for tablets. Your best bet is to use one of the Linux variants. Standard windows software won't run on it even if you use Windows RT, although a good selection is probably available from the windows store built with Microsoft's cross platform API (.net).

Open source Linux software is all fair game, as you can compile it yourself to run on your ARM proc.

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