AMD has put together groups that are just as focused and aggressive as their R&D partners were back at the beginning of the 2000s. This time they have formed the impressive sounding Heterogeneous System Architecture Foundation (HSAF for short). The group includes ARM, Imagination Technologies, Mediatek, and Texas Instruments (a long time AMD R&D partner).
Now take a look at this group; what you will notice is that they are all manufacturers of devices that are either ARM based or that support the ARM architecture. Not that this is a bad thing, but it could be evidence of a push by AMD to enter the non-x86 CPU market. We know from earlier today that they have licensed ARM’s Coretex-A5 processor specifically for the use of TrustZone technology in their APUs. This means that an AMD APU will have an x86 CPU, a GPU and an ARM Processor under the hood.
The new R&D group states that their purpose is to develop a heterogeneous computing platform that views a processing core as just that; a processing core. This is a long time goal for AMD that first introduced the idea of combining the CPU and GPU into the same die many years before Intel did. Companies like ARM, TI, IT, and Mediatek are important because they already know how to integrate these devices to share more resources than just memory.
You see AMD knows that their weakest link right now is their CPU core. You can argue this one anyway you like but AMD has an issue with leveraging their CPUs in combination with caching and memory. The problem started back with the move to DDR2 with the AM2 CPU line and continues to this day. AMD needs to find a way to integrate their GPU technology (including memory controllers) into their existing CPU structure. Here is where the HSAF group comes in. As we have mentioned more than once AMD does not have the money to fund research and development on their own. Companies like the ones making up HSAF do. They can help AMD foot the bill to develop new technologies to improve their own products.
The HSAF with AMD pushing behind is trying to make the original vision of AMD’s Fusion come to life. Back when Fusion was first announced it was not intended to be what we are seeing here where the GPU and the CPU share the same silicone, but a true combination of the CPU and GPU with cores that are able to accomplish different tasks but operate using the same sub-systems and resources.
So while we got the players wrong our original prediction that AMD would need to form an R&D group to get back into the game was spot on. They know they do not have the money to do this and know that they need some outside help. One place they can find that in in the ARM SoC world. Right now it is one of the only places that has been able to come close to doing what AMD needs to do in order to compete with Intel head to head again.
If AMD and HSAF can pull this one off they could potentially bring something new and exciting to market. Of course AMD’s track record of ideas to execution is not so good. It is also entirely possible that one of their new R&D partners (who are also competitors) might decide to run with some of the ideas that are developed. After all RAMBUS did that to JDEC…
There are still a few unanswered questions about AMD’s direction, but there are a few signs that we are looking for to see which way the wind is really blowing at AMD.
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