2014-05-AMD-skybridge-press-event-SF-11Earlier today, AMD introduced Project Skybridge, a game-changing framework that will allow the AMD ecosystem to use X86 or ARM based chips without redesigning the rest of the system. To make this happen, AMD will create powerful ARM-based chips that are pin-compatible with their X86 chips. This means that PC or Server makers can choose which processor platform suits their needs best, without having to worry about changing the motherboard and the electronics that connect to it.

AMD's Lisa Su, SVP & GM, Global Business Units gave us an overview of the new products

AMD’s Lisa Su, SVP & GM, Global Business Units gave us an overview of the new products

This is a very powerful proposition for a nascent ARM server market where OEMs are cautiously enthusiastic. With Skybridge, they will be able to leverage existing designs revolving around AMD products, and this is a huge time saver. No-one expect an extinction of the existing servers, but this could greatly accelerate the deployment of ARM-based solutions.

In the past, datacenters interested by ARM-based designed did so for the power savings potential, but also because of the aggregated bandwidth that could come from having a ton of individual low-power computers. Things are changing, and while the X86 servers remain the preferred option for the Enterprise space where tons of different apps run at the same time, ARM servers could very well take a good share of specialized servers that run a single application such as Git, Apache, FTP, Memached etc… in a very power-efficient way.


And AMD is not churning out wimpy ARM-based processors either: its offering will integrate many ARM A57 64-bit cores and their performance won’t be constrained by thermal limitations like they could be in a phone or a tablet. This should ensure a great performance/watt ratio – at least in theory. On the X86 size, AMD will use its new Puma+ core and both platforms will be manufactured using a 20nm process.

Further on the horizon, AMD will develop its own implementation of the ARM micro-architecture and will only license the instruction set (vs. the IP blocks). This is where AMD can bring a wealth of experience and differentiate itself against potential competitors.

On the right: Jim Keller, AMD's Chief Cores Architect

On the right: Jim Keller, AMD’s Chief Cores Architect

Interestingly, AMD did not divide its chips engineering resources to pull this off. Instead, it has turned its organization to leverage the most that it could with the existing system, and spare as little resources as possible to integrate the ARM instruction sets and supporting the changes. In the grand scheme of things, the instruction set doesn’t double the work, says AMD’s Chief Cores Architect.


This is the boldest, most interesting move ever from AMD in my opinion. The company has been behind some of the coolest computing feats over the years, but this is the first time that AMD can truly distance itself from Intel in a sustainable way. With ARM and X86 taking away the large majority of the revenues, AMD could become a dominant force in the nascent ARM server space – with no real competition in sight.

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