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.
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