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News AMD's semi-custom division to produce ARM CPUs

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amd6502

Senior member
Apr 21, 2017
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Oh, I guess it wasn't all that well known then. I'm totally serious about what it is, and it didn't tape-out on 14nm but rather a different node.

Aaaand that's my input on K12 done for the day :)
Was it 22FDX?

What they're doing with the licensed cores seems like it's a sound way to inch into the acorn risc market. A custom core wouldn't have that many performance advantages over an already pretty good core, and they'd have to sink a lot of resources into validation, for no real extra return.

Being able to extend K12 is a good option though if this becomes a much larger part of their overall sales. Or, they could use it as a starting point for other risc architectures (eg, a custom risc-v core)).
 

DrMrLordX

Lifer
Apr 27, 2000
17,843
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I think AMD has a lot of advantages over Ampere. For one, AMD is a much larger company with more resources to help partners. The same advantage that Intel has over AMD.

AMD has superior packaging technology compared to Ampere. I assume that AMD's infinity fabric (consider the next gen) will save on product costs, and increase the max frequency of the highest sku due to chiplet binning. AMD already has 3D stacking for cache and I'm sure we will see more with Zen 4.

AMD can share the same socket and platform with the already established platform. This will save on costs since it is massed produced. In addition, AMD can integrate its CDNA chips and Xilinx chips.
All true. You don't seem to be giving Ampere (or ARM Ltd.) much credit for the power of their designs, though. AMD has some good IP, but they aren't the only ones. If these semi-custom chips ever see the light of day and if they're actually going to be designed by AMD (rather than effectively being sourced from Samsung), we'll find out of AMD can actually out-ARM ARM. Apple did it, but they're about the only ones.

edit: also Qualcomm will be swinging for the fences in the consumer market with all the tech/expertise they picked up from Nuvia. Not sure why a semi-custom customer wouldn't be also looking at them unless dealing with Qualcomm is just that onerous (and maybe it is).
 
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Joe NYC

Senior member
Jun 26, 2021
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Looks like customers are reaching out to AMD to produce ARM-based products through their semi-custom division. That's . . . interesting. Why aren't they going to Ampere instead? Is Ampere saying "no"?
I watched the entire interview, and if anyone asked me about Top 10 points out of the interview, AMD making Arm (as in high end, high performance Arm CPUs) was not one of Top 10.

It seemed like usual lip service by AMD and being respectful to other companies, including Arm and those dabbling with Arm, adopting Arm in some segments...

Plus, AMD is also acquiring Xilinx that has some Arm in its portfolio.

I call BS on this one.
 
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uzzi38

Golden Member
Oct 16, 2019
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Nope, K12 was at TSMC, first version on 16FF for 2017, since 2015 and second version on 12FF for 2018, since 2017.
Bingo.

Zen also taped out on N16 as well.

EDIT: Although I'm not sure about the whole first version/second version bit.
 

NostaSeronx

Diamond Member
Sep 18, 2011
3,280
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EDIT: Although I'm not sure about the whole first version/second version bit.
16FF+ with ARMv8.0-A+, 12FFC with ARMv8.2-A+ w/ optional SVE supported which was a Jan 2017+ addition*.

It is hell to find this stuff, since everything is <<K12>> even though, the architecture is supposed to be <<Mountain Peaks>>. K12 being the second highest peak of the Saltoro Mountains.

*ARM probably still has a spot for AMD in the PR rocket chair for HPC on ARM. Since, AMD was suppose to be a Si Partner under some confidental pre-release ARM slides with Hisilicon(Kunpeng's SVE)&Fujistu(A64FX's SVE)
 
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Joe NYC

Senior member
Jun 26, 2021
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Fair point, that is true. Xilinx FPGAs do make use of ARM cores.

Kumar did come out and say that their semi-custom customers want ARM solutions. It might not have been the main focus of the interview, but . . .
The interviewer pressed him. My impression was that Kumar, as politely as he could, said that AMD did not close the door to Arm. I don't recall any enthusiasm or Kumar volunteering that this is something strategic to AMD. Seems like a peripheral issue for AMD at this time,
 

moinmoin

Platinum Member
Jun 1, 2017
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The interviewer pressed him.
While he did, it wasn't the way you seem to imply. The interviewer's only mention of ARM is this:
"It's not just your other x86 competitor trying to rejuvenate itself, it's also some vertically integrated folks doing ARM-based processors A6, et cetera."

Kumar's response containing ARM is this:
"I'll tell you from my standpoint, when you look at compute solutions, whether it's x86 or ARM or even other areas, that is an area for our focus and investment for us. (...) And it's really the solutions that are important, we know compute really well even ARM as you referenced, we have a very good relationship with ARM, and we understand that enroll customers want to work with us with that particular product to deliver the solutions, we stand ready to go ahead"

So it's essentially going, paraphrasing: "You not only face a rejuvenating x86 competition, but also ARM-based competitors." - "ARM is not a competitor, it's an area of investment for us that our customers can choose to pick as well." In short, embracing the potential competition.

Full transcript of that interview for those interested:
 

Joe NYC

Senior member
Jun 26, 2021
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While he did, it wasn't the way you seem to imply. The interviewer's only mention of ARM is this:
"It's not just your other x86 competitor trying to rejuvenate itself, it's also some vertically integrated folks doing ARM-based processors A6, et cetera."

Kumar's response containing ARM is this:
"I'll tell you from my standpoint, when you look at compute solutions, whether it's x86 or ARM or even other areas, that is an area for our focus and investment for us. (...) And it's really the solutions that are important, we know compute really well even ARM as you referenced, we have a very good relationship with ARM, and we understand that enroll customers want to work with us with that particular product to deliver the solutions, we stand ready to go ahead"

So it's essentially going, paraphrasing: "You not only face a rejuvenating x86 competition, but also ARM-based competitors." - "ARM is not a competitor, it's an area of investment for us that our customers can choose to pick as well." In short, embracing the potential competition.

Full transcript of that interview for those interested:
My interpretation is: "If Amazon asked us to make an Arm based Epyc, which they would use throughout the ASW cloud, we would make Arm based Epyc for them, but we are not developing Arm based Epyc on our own"
 
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moinmoin

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Jun 1, 2017
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My interpretation is: "If Amazon asked us to make an Arm based Epyc, which they would use throughout the ASW cloud, we would make Arm based Epyc for them, but we are not developing Arm based Epyc on our own"
Then we agree. That's not what's called "lip service" as you did before though, quite the opposite as Kumar states AMD is prepared to serve such requests by customers.
 

Ajay

Diamond Member
Jan 8, 2001
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While he did, it wasn't the way you seem to imply. The interviewer's only mention of ARM is this:
"It's not just your other x86 competitor trying to rejuvenate itself, it's also some vertically integrated folks doing ARM-based processors A6, et cetera."

Kumar's response containing ARM is this:
"I'll tell you from my standpoint, when you look at compute solutions, whether it's x86 or ARM or even other areas, that is an area for our focus and investment for us. (...) And it's really the solutions that are important, we know compute really well even ARM as you referenced, we have a very good relationship with ARM, and we understand that enroll customers want to work with us with that particular product to deliver the solutions, we stand ready to go ahead"

So it's essentially going, paraphrasing: "You not only face a rejuvenating x86 competition, but also ARM-based competitors." - "ARM is not a competitor, it's an area of investment for us that our customers can choose to pick as well." In short, embracing the potential competition.

Full transcript of that interview for those interested:
And the subtext, provided by Andrie and Ian, is that would require an ‘investment' on the part of said customers; as is the norm for semi-custom work. Anyway, quite an interesting advertisement that AMD is open to developing ARM CPUs as part of a semi-custom solution. Even though they are not interested in developing and selling their own ARM based CPUs in general. I take this to mean that AMD would be happy to take an ARM design directly from ARM and implement it as part of a customer solution vs doing a ground up custom ARM design - the latter approach would be far too expensive for most companies not named Apple.
 
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Joe NYC

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Jun 26, 2021
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Then we agree. That's not what's called "lip service" as you did before though, quite the opposite as Kumar states AMD is prepared to serve such requests by customers.
Using a little more precise language: Are high end Arm cores on AMD roadmap? Is AMD investing its own money into a high end Arm cores

IMO, the answer is no.

BTW, here is an article analyzing the situation, which has the same conclusion:
Will AMD Get Back Into Arm Server Chips? (nextplatform.com)
 
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moinmoin

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Jun 1, 2017
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And the subtext, provided by Andrie and Ian, is that would require an ‘investment' on the part of said customers; as is the norm for semi-custom work. Anyway, quite an interesting advertisement that AMD is open to developing ARM CPUs as part of a semi-custom solution. Even though they are not interested in developing and selling their own ARM based CPUs in general. I take this to mean that AMD would be happy to take an ARM design directly from ARM and implement it as part of a customer solution vs doing a ground up custom ARM design - the latter approach would be far too expensive for most companies not named Apple.
Of course it would require an investment of the customer, that's what the whole semi custom business is all about, chip design for hire. But it's also good business strategy for AMD R&D to keep holding all cards even after efforts to pursue a market launch of K12 were shelved in favor of full focus on the x86 market. After all AMD uses ARM core and IP in every chip anyway, and K12 shared most designs with Zen. So while that would need being updated (most notably the frontend part as @uzzi38 rightfully pointed out) even that would not need a ground up design effort anymore, the ground work had been already done.

Using a little more precise language: Are high end Arm cores on AMD roadmap? Is AMD investing its own money into a high end Arm cores
Why would they? Semi custom stuff appears on the customers' roadmaps, that's the whole point.

As Kumar said "when you look at compute solutions, whether it's x86 or ARM or even other areas, that is an area for our focus and investment for us". There is a huge difference between doing R&D, of which ARM most certainly always has been a part of, and bringing said R&D to market, for which AMD has no need for since its x86 products are selling gangbusters already as is.

That's also the part your linked article is completely off about. There is no news here, no new development, nothing changed. When both K12 and Zen were at the point of needing commercial preparation, the way AMD interpreted the market led it to the conclusion that at that time focusing its own products on x86 is more effective in the current market, and a more efficient use of its then lacking manpower. And by all accounts that read was and still is correct. There is imo no realistic universe in which an AMD with ARM instead or along x86 products would have fared better.

But AMD does the R&D it does, ARM is most certainly part of it, and that always has been open to customers of its semi custom business. That's all there is to it really.
 
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NTMBK

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Nov 14, 2011
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Of course it would require an investment of the customer, that's what the whole semi custom business is all about, chip design for hire. But it's also good business strategy for AMD R&D to keep holding all cards even after efforts to pursue a market launch of K12 were shelved in favor of full focus on the x86 market. After all AMD uses ARM core and IP in every chip anyway, and K12 shared most designs with Zen. So while that would need being updated (most notably the frontend part as @uzzi38 rightfully pointed out) even that would not need a ground up design effort anymore, the ground work had been already done.
They would need to spin CPU design teams back up that have been disbanded or reassigned. The customer would need to accept that AMD has no roadmap to further develop the ARM core- this is a one-and-done deal, unless the customer pays again for the next round of CPU development too.

The point of semicustom is to reuse AMD's existing IP with relatively small modifications. For a reasonable price, you get a chip tailored to your needs. What you are describing is not SEMIcustom, it's almost entirely custom.
 
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moinmoin

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Jun 1, 2017
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They would need to spin CPU design teams back up that have been disbanded or reassigned. The customer would need to accept that AMD has no roadmap to further develop the ARM core- this is a one-and-done deal, unless the customer pays again for the next round of CPU development too.

The point of semicustom is to reuse AMD's existing IP with relatively small modifications. For a reasonable price, you get a chip tailored to your needs. What you are describing is not SEMIcustom, it's almost entirely custom.
Indeed that's rather unlikely (though I do think they keep doing R&D on ARM cores to some degree). That's exactly why I wrote earlier in the thread that I don't expect custom ARM cores to be involved in this, just AMD's IPs concerning uncore, interconnects, graphics and packaging.
 

moinmoin

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Jun 1, 2017
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Really odd indeed. On the other hand due to the Xbox consoles there should be plenty knowledge at Microsoft about AMD's semi custom business so maybe that's the tangent that made this possible. If that rumor is true to begin with, that is.
 

Asterox

Senior member
May 15, 2012
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Strange. They won't use Ryzen but they'll hire AMD to make a custom ARM CPU?
Not really, if we take into account the earlier rumors from November 2020.

 

Joe NYC

Senior member
Jun 26, 2021
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Really odd indeed. On the other hand due to the Xbox consoles there should be plenty knowledge at Microsoft about AMD's semi custom business so maybe that's the tangent that made this possible. If that rumor is true to begin with, that is.
AMD does not currently offer mainstream x86 notebook APUs with RDNA 2. But that will change next year with Rembrandt. And, I wonder if, by next year, the rumored MediaTex JV has a 5G modem to add to the solution.

It would not be a bad idea for Microsoft to initially work with both and see which one has a better solution.

PS: the Arm + RDNA 2 chip is rumored to be combined with Samsung 5G modem.
 

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