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AMD launches semi-custom processor division

AMD launches semi-custom processor division

AMD's semi-custom work for Sony's PlayStation 4 is now an official business unit, as the company looks to diversify its offerings on a wave of mounting debt.

AMD has announced a new plan which it hopes will see it return to much-needed profit: the creation of semi-custom processors for anybody with the cash.

That AMD is to create semi-custom chips shouldn't come as a surprise: Sony's upcoming PlayStation 4 uses a customised Jaguar-based accelerated processing unit (APU) processor based on Sony-mandated tweaks to AMD's original design. That AMD is looking to help other third parties implement their own intellectual property (IP) in system-on-chip (SoC) designs using AMD's basic building blocks, however, is a shift for the company - and one that shows AMD is taking note of the success enjoyed by ARM and its multitudinous licensees.

The new programme will see AMD offering to create what it describes as 'tailored products' based around its existing IP, folding in whatever IP its customers would like to see added. Those creating network appliances, for example, might want to add application-specific integrated circuit (ASIC) elements to AMD's APU design to accelerate traffic analysis and routing, while set-top box manufacturers might want to add a digital signal processor (DSP) or hardware acceleration for an as-yet unannounced video compression algorithm. The move even opens the door for AMD to enter the cut-throat world of ARM SoCs, swapping the x86 cores on its APUs out for ARM parts while retaining the high-performance graphics cores.

'Innovation in computing over the next decade will come from deep knowledge and integration of hardware, software and system expertise,' claimed AMD's Lisa Su, senior vice president and general manager of global business units, of the move. 'The charter of the Semi-Custom Business Unit at AMD is to provide OEM [Original Equipment Manufacturer] customers access to leading-edge IP to create tailored and differentiated solutions. AMD's high-performance heritage, strategic investments in IP, and SoC design methodology enable customer-specific solutions that are truly one-of-a-kind.'

The company's first official design win is, naturally, the customised Jaguar processor powering Sony's PlayStation 4. If rumours are to be believed, its second win will be similar components for Microsoft's rival Xbox 720 console - but the company's announcement makes clear that it is casting its net as wide as possible in an effort to keep the company afloat above rising debts.

AMD's new Semi-Custom Business Unit is now officially open for business, under the leadership of Saeid Moshkelani - late of Trident Microsystems, which entered Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection proceedings in January last year. Whether it will attract the business it needs from its target markets - officially stated as games consoles, set-top boxes, smart TVs, PCs, tablets, servers, high-performance computing (HPC) and infrastructure applications, more properly summarised as 'anyone who will pay' - or be forced to live off whatever licensing fees it extracts from Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft, however, remains to be seen.

15 Comments

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meandmymouth 2nd May 2013, 12:20 Quote
I would assume having made this move that enough customers have expressed an interest in custom chips for AMD to consider this new division. It's a big risk to take if they don't have already have customers line-up.
Gareth Halfacree 2nd May 2013, 12:32 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by meandmymouth
I would assume having made this move that enough customers have expressed an interest in custom chips for AMD to consider this new division. It's a big risk to take if they don't have already have customers line-up.
Yes and no: they've already got Microsoft and Sony in the bag, the profits from which should easily mean the semi-custom business unit is the company's best-performing in 2014 even assuming it doesn't win any more customers. Between them, the PS3 and Xbox 360 have sold over 150 million units since launch.
meandmymouth 2nd May 2013, 12:49 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Gareth Halfacree
Yes and no: they've already got Microsoft and Sony in the bag, the profits from which should easily mean the semi-custom business unit is the company's best-performing in 2014 even assuming it doesn't win any more customers. Between them, the PS3 and Xbox 360 have sold over 150 million units since launch.

You know, I completely forgot that both consoles will be on the market for the next 5- 10 years so that is a constant income for the new division. My brain doesn't wake up until the afternoon.
Gareth Halfacree 2nd May 2013, 13:27 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by meandmymouth
My brain doesn't wake up until the afternoon.
Neither does mine, but don't tell the editor.
Hustler 2nd May 2013, 14:52 Quote
They're also releasing a version of the PS4 CPU/APU design without the Sony modifications for the PC market later this year.
SchizoFrog 3rd May 2013, 03:22 Quote
People seem to be assuming that AMD are going to be raking in the profits from their deals with Sony And MS. Lets not forget that nVidia and AMD were both involved in the last generation of consoles and that led to nVidia pulling out this time around and AMD has lost money non stop while the current gen consoles have been on the market.
They will have spent fortunes on RnD and all the other costs associated with new CPUs, even if they are a derivative of their full APU processors. It's going to take some time before AMD sees profits, if any.
Gareth Halfacree 3rd May 2013, 08:23 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by SchizoFrog
People seem to be assuming that AMD are going to be raking in the profits from their deals with Sony And MS. Lets not forget that nVidia and AMD were both involved in the last generation of consoles and that led to nVidia pulling out this time around and AMD has lost money non stop while the current gen consoles have been on the market.
True, but AMD has only supplied GPU parts in the past - the profits on a full GPU/APU solution are greater. That said, it's perfectly possible for a small company to make a substantial profit from even just the GPU in a single console: we have PowerVR tech in smartphones today because Imagination Technology ploughed the money it earned from making the GPU for Sega's Dreamcast console - which only sold around 10 million units in its lifetime, less than a seventh that of the PS3 or Xbox 360 - into mobile graphics R&D. The reason AMD's losing money isn't because the console GPU deals it has aren't profitable - it's just that other areas of the company are massively, massively unprofitable and are dragging everything else down. Obviously, if AMD doesn't fix that soon then it won't make enough money from the Xbox 720/PS4 deals to matter - it'll just go bankrupt, get bought by ARM or Intel and disappear forever.
Quote:
Originally Posted by SchizoFrog
They will have spent fortunes on RnD and all the other costs associated with new CPUs, even if they are a derivative of their full APU processors. It's going to take some time before AMD sees profits, if any.
The majority of the R&D costs associated with Jaguar are marked up against its eventual commercial release. The R&D costs associated with the semi-custom sections will be charged to Sony, meaning it's not a hit AMD has had to take. Thus, it is technically 'profitable' from pretty much the first PS4 APU sold - while Jaguar itself won't be profitable until it has earned back its R&D costs in the mainstream market. If that sounds shonky, welcome to the wonderful world of creative accountancy.
Adnoctum 3rd May 2013, 11:16 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Article
AMD has announced a new plan which it hopes will see it return to much-needed profit: the creation of semi-custom processors for anybody with the cash.

and
Quote:
Originally Posted by Article
. . . but the company's announcement makes clear that it is casting its net as wide as possible in an effort to keep the company afloat above rising debts.

So from the snide comments in the article I should infer that this is a desperate strategy where AMD is grasping for revenue from any John who cruises past AMD's lamp-post?

But when Intel offer the EXACT SAME opportunity with their Atom cores, that is just customer-centric Intel offering their technology partners the solutions they need at a price they can't say no to, right?

Don't forget that Intel will love you long time Johnny! Guaranteed clean!
Gareth Halfacree 3rd May 2013, 11:28 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Adnoctum
So from the snide comments in the article I should infer that this is a desperate strategy where AMD is grasping for revenue from any John who cruises past AMD's lamp-post?
If you're trying to deny that AMD is seriously hurting financially, then I think you'll rather find the facts aren't on your side.
Quote:
Originally Posted by Adnoctum
But when Intel offer the EXACT SAME opportunity with their Atom cores, that is just customer-centric Intel offering their technology partners the solutions they need at a price they can't say no to, right?
I'm pretty sure I've never said that, but the fact remains Intel and AMD are in very different positions: despite a drop of 25% year-on-year, Intel made a profit of $2.05 billion last year while AMD made a loss of $1.18 billion - a loss so bad it's had to sell its own headquarters and lease them back. In other words: AMD is losing money nearly as fast as Intel is earning it. Intel doesn't need to find more customers: it's doing just fine. AMD, on the other hand, needs to start making a profit and fast, because it doesn't have any more cash to lose - if FY13 is like FY12, there won't be an FY14 for AMD. It's that simple.
Quote:
Originally Posted by Adnoctum
Don't forget that Intel will love you long time Johnny! Guaranteed clean!
Oh, I see, it's the old game again. AMD fanboys always reckon bit is biased for Intel, while Intel fanboys cry the opposite. Well, let's just see what /proc/cpuinfo has to say about that:
Quote:
Originally Posted by grep "model name" /proc/cpuinfo
model name : AMD A10-5800K APU with Radeon(tm) HD Graphics
Yes, clearly I'm a paid Intel shill. Well spotted there, Sherlock.
Adnoctum 3rd May 2013, 12:51 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Gareth Halfacree
Yes, clearly I'm a paid Intel shill. Well spotted there, Sherlock.

Too sensitive. Please quote where I accused you of being a shill? Also where I show I am an AMD fanboy? Or where I said AMD is in great financial shape? Three strawmen in a single reply.

I quoted two parts of your article that I believe are snide comments about AMD doing this because they are desperate for the cash. Hence the prostitution theme of my comment.

AMD may well be desperate for the cash, but it is a long bow to draw to link AMD's financial difficulties with this initiative. AMD has been moving towards this for years, they have been talking about this for years. They have now formalised it as a distinct business unit, and their first public customer (Sony), but it isn't anything new.

I commented that when AMD announces custom chips, here it is portrayed as a desperate grab for cash rather than exploring new markets for their products/technologies. I pointed out that Intel offers THE EXACT SAME THING and even lets customers make their customised Atoms at TSMC just like AMD, but because it is Intel they are just being more responsive and exploring new markets. Shockingly, no one has linked IOSF to Intel being desperate for cash. Perhaps Intel is on the game for MORE cash rather than SOME cash?

My problem isn't that I'm an offended AMD fanboy (I'm not BTW. CLI returns model name : Intel(R) Core(TM)2 Duo CPU L9600 @ 2.13GHz, but proves nothing), but that the article linked the news of the Semi-Custom Business Unit to AMD's financial position in a this, therefore that manner (post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy).
If you had offered journalistic commentary such as AMD may be hoping that this new market will help with AMD's financial woes, or that if successful it will help with AMD's bottom line, or any number of more neutral positions, I would have frowned at the unnecessary harping on at AMD's corporate balance sheet in an irrelevant manner, but I wouldn't have commented.
SchizoFrog 3rd May 2013, 15:36 Quote
@Gareth

You seem to be taking a lot for granted and making massive assumptions. nVidia also provided parts for the current gen consoles and have pulled out specifically due to the lack of profits to be obtained due to tiny profit margins. AMD's costs won't just be written off, the contracts they have signed will be for set amounts and percentages and it will take as long as it takes for them to cover their costs and then for them to make any profits. This is a long term plan and is a missive gamble for AMD, While they may get a good return in years to come (maybe 5 years down the line) they will have to survive the current markets and trends until then. As you said yourself, other areas of the company have been losing large scale amounts and I am not sure they will be able to bridge the gap until they get a return on their console adventures, if there are any to be had in the end at all.
Gareth Halfacree 3rd May 2013, 16:16 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Adnoctum
[snip valid reasoning]
If you had offered journalistic commentary such as AMD may be hoping that this new market will help with AMD's financial woes, or that if successful it will help with AMD's bottom line, or any number of more neutral positions, I would have frowned at the unnecessary harping on at AMD's corporate balance sheet in an irrelevant manner, but I wouldn't have commented.
Your argument has merit: when I write, I attempt to straddle a fine line between dry reportage and colour commentary - hence comments which may seem sarcastic, snide or otherwise mocking. (For another example, see the article on ASRock's Purity Audio thingumyjigger I wrote this morning.) I try not to overdo it, but it's part of the 'style' of the site: this is bit-tech, not Reuters.

In the case you've highlighted, it's perfectly possible I've gone too far over the "colour commentary" side of the journalistic line - it's hard for me to judge as I know what I had in mind when I wrote it, a state of mind readers like yourself cannot know.

In my response to you, was I overly-sensitive? I don't think so: I've always responded to comments in the same tone as they were provided. You went for the "love you long time five dolla" approach, and I reciprocated. This time, you've decided to take the time to properly air your views - hence this rather more serious reply from myself.

Will I be avoiding all colour commentary, sarcasm and the like in the future? Absolutely not. Like I say, it's the style of the site. If you want dry reportage, try Reuters - or just get yourself on the same press release lists as me, and you'll receive all the pro-company news you can handle and more beside. Will I take your comments on board, and view what I write with a more critical eye so as to ensure I stay more on the 'journalism' than 'sarcasm' side of the line? Absolutely, and I appreciate you taking the time to air your views in a clear and cogent manner.
Quote:
Originally Posted by SchizoFrog
nVidia also provided parts for the current gen consoles and have pulled out specifically due to the lack of profits to be obtained due to tiny profit margins.
That was Nvidia's story, yes. How much truth there is in that is questionable: I can't imagine there's a great deal more profit margin in providing the SoC for a £170 tablet than in providing a GPU (or SoC) for a £300 console, yet Nvidia is quite happy doing the former. Perhaps I'm just being cynical again, but Nvidia's "well, we didn't want the business anyway" smacks of sour grapes considering its heavy presence in the ARM SoC market - a market, it must be remembered, in which Nvidia has to pay a percentage of its revenue back to ARM Holdings, diluting its margins still further.

Imagination Technologies proved that licensing a chip for a console can be extremely profitable, even if said console is not a massive success. I'm confident that AMD will be making a healthy profit on its console deals - although, as you point out, it's only an assumption, as nobody is going to be sharing numbers any time soon.
rollo 3rd May 2013, 16:16 Quote
AMDs losses are getting worse not better, if you take away the sale of there headquarters they lost nearly $350mil in the last quater. They have nothing left to sell anymore so q2 could be a major bloodbath.

Intel is rumoured to want to buy them now. Monopoly board will not complain as AMD owns alot less of the consumer CPU market than even arm does now. ( rumours are of a 5-8 dollar / share offer according to the financial pages AMD share price is up on this news)

If they lose above 100mil dollars in q2 its over in all honesty ( they are 1 billion in debt with 1.1bil cash )

AMD are in this mess not because of consumer CPU or Gpu but they lost the server market badly they had 3 years ago around a 35% share of the server market now they have below 10%. With it there profits have gone and now they are fighting for survival. ( arm and IBM are pushing more into servers and with it AMDs server share has dropped even lower)

AMDs miricle is the ps4 and new Xbox that everyone is assuming will sell well, wii u has been a poor seller and you just wonder if the market that seems to have gone mobile with tablets will even buy either console in the numbers that people are hoping for.( wii u sales are bearly 5 million units at last check)

That's not even considering if Sony and ms are just licence the tech from AMD for there chips and making them thereselves none of this has really been considered.

Nvidia got 30-50mil a year for there work with Sony on the ps3 which is basically peanuts. Even if you quadruple that to 200mil a year for AMD ( having both cpus and both gpus)we are not talking the saving grace that the company would need to survive.

Not seen any conformation on the ps4 if its licence or not and the new Xbox is a total unknown till its made official. Difference between licence and actually making them is 4-5 times the cash.
SchizoFrog 3rd May 2013, 16:26 Quote
If they do go and get themselves sold I see the company being split and sold with the GPU side going to Intel and the CPU/APU side going to nVidia as they would love to have that x86 licence.
SAimNE 3rd May 2013, 18:33 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by rollo
AMDs losses are getting worse not better, if you take away the sale of there headquarters they lost nearly $350mil in the last quater. They have nothing left to sell anymore so q2 could be a major bloodbath.

Intel is rumoured to want to buy them now. Monopoly board will not complain as AMD owns alot less of the consumer CPU market than even arm does now. ( rumours are of a 5-8 dollar / share offer according to the financial pages AMD share price is up on this news)

If they lose above 100mil dollars in q2 its over in all honesty ( they are 1 billion in debt with 1.1bil cash )

AMD are in this mess not because of consumer CPU or Gpu but they lost the server market badly they had 3 years ago around a 35% share of the server market now they have below 10%. With it there profits have gone and now they are fighting for survival. ( arm and IBM are pushing more into servers and with it AMDs server share has dropped even lower)

AMDs miricle is the ps4 and new Xbox that everyone is assuming will sell well, wii u has been a poor seller and you just wonder if the market that seems to have gone mobile with tablets will even buy either console in the numbers that people are hoping for.( wii u sales are bearly 5 million units at last check)

That's not even considering if Sony and ms are just licence the tech from AMD for there chips and making them thereselves none of this has really been considered.

Nvidia got 30-50mil a year for there work with Sony on the ps3 which is basically peanuts. Even if you quadruple that to 200mil a year for AMD ( having both cpus and both gpus)we are not talking the saving grace that the company would need to survive.

Not seen any conformation on the ps4 if its licence or not and the new Xbox is a total unknown till its made official. Difference between licence and actually making them is 4-5 times the cash.

expecting the wii u to sell extremely well is a stupid thing. most people on the wii are casual gamers and what they have with the wii is more than what they need, and the people who actually game are prettty much limited to monster hunter... and the "new" monster hunter title release for the u is basically just a texture modded monster hunter tri... i've seen it and aside from a few editing of attack animations(though the timing, and range didnt really change) there is only what has been happening on dolphin emulator for the past year. Anyway not really a huge market for that. XBOX will sell well as long as they have a halo title on it.

and actually amds losses have shown to be slowing(they did better than what was expected of the market last time) and they have been VERY reliable when it came to these apus. they used to have the crappiest drivers in the world but the drivers on apus have always been pretty top notch and improved very fast(with recent ones it is now apparently possible to crossfire with a 7750, presumably to prepare for the release of richland in june).

I cant deny amd has made its fair share(actually way way more than their fair share... in fact at many times i thought they allowed the runner ups of the special olympics to design their business plan as a consolation prize :() however they have been doing better, and the apu is a great processor in its own right once you overclock them, and the dual graphics are performing better than anyone ever thought.... and richland(not to mention kaveri) are supposed to improve that quite a bit. AMD isnt quite out of the hole they dug themselves into, but unless they royally f up they have a very good chance to make it out soon.

EDIT: just would like to say i love the classifications on this site.... "What's a Dremel?" XD

oh and the biggest advantage to the ps3/xbox/wii are testing for their architecture. their shared memory ideas are now going to be tested using(according to rumor here) both standard DDR3 and GDDR5, and i can gaurantee they will find out much more information during the development and testing of the consoles that will help them work out further improvements in the apus.
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