AMD to integrate ARM core into APUs

June 13, 2012

dylan.mcgrath-June 13, 2012

BELLEVUE, Wash.—Advanced Micro Devices Inc. (AMD) will develop a platform security processor using an ARM Cortex-A5 CPU for inclusion in accelerated processing units (APUs) that will be available starting next year, the company said Wednesday (June 13).

The move, which had been speculated on in recent months, means that for the first time rival x86 and ARM architectures will be integrated together in a monolithic ICs. The ARM license is part of a larger strategic partnership between AMD and ARM to enhance the security features of ARM's APUs, according to Mike Wolfe, AMD senior vice president and chief information officer.

Wolfe said AMD made the deal with ARM largely because it wanted to incorporate ARM's TrustZone security technology into its future APUs. AMD originally planned to develop its own security platform for APUs, but ultimately determined it made more sense from a customer perspective to go with an industry-standard solution, TrustZone, that has been around since 2004 and is backed by a comprehensive ecosystem.

"We wanted to leverage ARM's TrustZone and extend it into the x86 space," Wolfe said.

The license deal between AMD and ARM—which has been the subject of speculation since an ARM executive spoke at AMD's 2011 Fusion Developer Summit—represents a seismic shift in the battle between Intel Corp.'s x86 architecture and the ARM architecture, developed and marketed by UK-based ARM Holdings plc. Intel's x86, which AMD licenses from its longtime rival, has long been the dominant architecture in the PC space, while the power-thrifty ARM architecture rules the mobile world.

"In certain ways, ARM and AMD make strange bedfellows," said Leendert van Doom, an AMD corporate Fellow. "But I think we are in this new world with different relationships."

Wolfe said the deal should not be interpreted as a statement about the ARM architecture versus x86. "We believe x86 is still going to be the dominant architecture in the data center for years to come," he said.

AMD CEO Rory Read hinted in February that AMD could take an ARM license as part of "an ambidextrous" strategy with regard to architectures. In April, ARM CEO Warren East said the firm was working to persuade AMD to license ARM processors. East said AMD had recently signaled it was rethinking its strategy and could be more open to the idea of taking an ARM license.

Van Doom said AMD plans to offer its first APUs incorporating the Cortex-A5 core next year. The scheme will first be implemented in G-Series APUs for tablets and ultrathin PCs in 2013, then implemented across the firm's APU product line in 2014, he said.

Wolfe and van Doom said the appeal of TrustZone was its ability to monitor and help protect against malicious access to sensitive data and operations at the hardware level. They cited examples, including the Flame virus that recently made headlines, to support the need for robust security.

ARM's TrustZone technology is described as a system-wide approach to security that was implemented as a result of ongoing co-development between ARM and a wide range of companies. The technology has been implemented in billions of devices.

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