AMD Painted Into a Corner

AMD has been good for IT. They kept Intel competing on price and performance, somewhat. However:

  • they did an excellent job of developing AMD64 but then neglected 32-bit stuff
  • they neglected low-power computing
  • ARM moved into x86 territory

Sure, they bought Geode but did little with it. In the good old days of Geode, the target was mostly thin clients and AMD did not want to undermine the fire-breathing/hair-drying desktop. Along came the netbook and AMD was caught out. Intel and Via and ARM sucked up all the juice.

Now, mobile and smart-thingies are on fire and AMD has nothing to offer except integrated graphics that sucks too much juice. With ARM and low-power x86 taking the mobile space and moving into desktops and servers, AMD64 has little space except gamers and servers and the illiterate consumer. In 2011, consumers are going to see side by side demos of x86, AMD64 and ARM and will have a choice, “Should I pay $100 or $250 for a box that does what I need?

So, AMD has fought well against Intel, only to lose the low-end stuff to ARM. Needing a scapegoat, they have pushed out the CEO who saved their bacon from Intel.

Expect AMD to continue to do well in high-power computing, gaming and servers. They will continue to have a share of the shrinking or stagnant hair-dryer market, but they are very late to the mobile revolution. If M$ moves to ARM to go mobile, AMD will be locked out completely. They sold their fabs. Now they cannot even go the ARMed route without huge expense. Does the world need a second ARM? Perhaps, if M$ buys out ARM, but that is not going to happen for the foreseeable future. AMD has painted itself into a shrinking corner.

UPDATE There are reports that the board disagreed with the CEO on diversifying into mobile applications. Perhaps now AMD will change direction. That could be good for all of us.

UPDATE ArsTechnica has another take on this. WSJ sees part of the disaffection for the incumbent as cost-cutting measures including selling an ARM+GPU design to Qualcomm! Wow! There’s an echo in here. The title of this post is right on. However, AMD can still expand in servers with multi-core 64bitness doing the heavy lifting for all the new light-weight client computers. Unfortunately, they could sell 1000 client chips for every server chip… Chuckle.

UPDATE TheRegister is thinking AMD migt get its own ARM licence.

About Robert Pogson

I am a retired teacher in Canada. I taught in the subject areas where I have worked for almost forty years: maths, physics, chemistry and computers. I love hunting, fishing, picking berries and mushrooms, too.
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4 Responses to AMD Painted Into a Corner

  1. Ray says:

    Whoops, sorry. Didn’t notice the rest of the comment

    What I meant was that you’re comparing CPUs designed for different markets. ARM CPUs used in mobile phones, games, and smartphones. While with x86, the products Intel and AMD offers tends to be used with Laptops, Desktops and Servers, with higher performance. So naturally, ARM CPUs use less power, with less performance.

  2. Ray says:

    But then you’ll need more RAM to run the same applications.

  3. There are two ways AMD can make their processors more efficient:

    • Moore’s Law – keep making transistors smaller and they use less energy per operation/clock
    • change the architecture

    The history of x86/amd64 has been to extend the instruction set with more instructions. The problem with that is you only execute a few instructions at a time so all those other bits are wasted more or less. Clocked at xgHz, stuff wastes a lot of energy. ARM has stuck with the concept of keeping the instruction set minimal while riding Moore’s Law. Intel and AMD cannot rewrite the physics of carrying current through silicon. They uses billions of transistors per chip. ARM uses millions. Of course, ARM does then depend on storage and caches more to hold a larger number of instructions but it is much easier to optimize storage for energy efficiency than an NXN matrix of computing units. There is a simple principle in physics/engineering. If you minimize the energy consumption of each module in a system, you minimize the total. With GNU/Linux on ARM you need less fast/slow storage and CPU power to get the job done. The ARM processors needed for “8” to perform decently will need huge caches to manage the bloat. Caches run at very high clocks and add a major part of the heat of the CPU. Modern Intel and AMD CPUs have caches like 2MB to 12MB. Those caches use more power than the whole ARM CPU doing the same task. The ratio is something like 4:1 energy consumption for x86 doing the same task as an ARM CPU. It’s not something M$ can code around or Intel/AMD can fix with Moore’s Law. At any resolution ARM will be more efficient because it needs less of everything to get the job done.

  4. Ray says:

    Or they can make their processors more efficent 😉

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