06 May 2014

AMD’s Project Skybridge: New ARM and x86 chips that are pin-compatible

AMD Project Skybridge: ARM and x86 chips that are pin-compatible
At its Core Innovation Update press conference, AMD has outlined the future of its x86 and ARM efforts. The most notable announcement was the unveiling of Project Skybridge, which in 2015 will see new 20nm x86 and ARM SoCs that are pin-compatible with each other that is, there could be a single chipset/socket that can take either an ARM or x86 SoC, depending on what makes more sense for the user. AMD also showed off its first, working 64-bit ARM server chip (Seattle), and slipped in a quick aside that it is indeed working on a new, from-scratch x86 core, with an expected release sometime around 2016 (so, probably 14/16nm).

AMD Project Skybridge roadmap
AMD Project Skybridge “ambidextrous computing” roadmap

AMD calls Project Skybridge an “ambidextrous design framework.” The basic idea is that, demand for x86 the total addressable market has peaked, while ARM is still growing. AMD plans to provide “families” of x86 and ARM chips that are pin-compatible, meaning a single socket that can accept both architectures. These chips, like the latest APUs, will have GCN GPUs and full HSA support. To begin with, in 2015, the ARM chip will be based on standard Cortex-A57 cores and the x86 chip will use Puma (next-gen Jaguar) cores. You might say that they’re a hUMA Puma. In 2016, AMD will debut its first custom-designed ARM core (dubbed K12) and an all-new x86 core. Jim Keller, of Apple A4/A5 and AMD K8 fame, will head up the design of both chips.

ARM + x86, total addressable market
ARM + x86, total addressable market. AMD is hoping to ride the wave to victory.

AMD core roadmap for 2014 through 2016
AMD ARM core roadmap for 2014 through 2016

For now, of course, all AMD has to offer is its new 28nm Cortex-A57 (Seattle) server chip. AMD demonstrated the silicon on stage, and the chip will be released some time this year. Project Skybridge, with its pin compatibility and custom designs, sure sounds incredibly exciting but AMD has almost made it its “thing” to promise big and exciting changes, and then wholeheartedly fail to deliver.

But hey, embracing new architectures (ARM) and creating entirely new architectures from scratch (Fusion/HSA) is no mean feat. AMD was faced with a dilemma: Continue to go toe-to-toe with Intel and definitely lose, or try something new and probably lose. Endeavors like heterogeneous compute and Project Skybridge definitely have promise, but they’re not compelling, in your face, switch to AMD right now features. In an incredibly optimistic best case scenario, where AMD builds a CPU core with strong single-threaded performance and gets developers fully on board to leverage its GPU advantage, there is a chance that AMD will emerge victorious. It’s a small chance, but it’s infinitely more likely than if AMD had continued to headbutt against Intel’s x86 supremacy.

Courtesy Extremetech


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