AMD: Engineers Are Gradually Shifting to System-on-Chip Development Model

AMD’s High-Ranking Executive: There Are Benefits In Not Being AMD Veteran

by Anton Shilov
01/09/2013 | 06:12 PM

It is not a secret that Advanced Micro Devices has faced many headwinds with its recent restructuring and transformational efforts. However, it looks like the changes have actually begun at AMD as according to a high-ranking executive the company’s engineers have started to shift their way of thinking to system-on-chips from pure microprocessors.

 

“I am a big believer in using the best IP for a given application. It is because I am not a long-time AMDer. There is a mentality that if you're a long time AMDer that ‘we are x86, we know what we are doing and it is just about building better x86 devices’,” said Said Lisa Su, senior vice president and general manager of global business units at AMD, in a conversation with Reuters news-agency.

AMD is in process of transforming itself from a developer of central processing units and graphics processing units into a designer of custom system-on-chips that satisfy demands of broad markets. To address new markets, which require small form-factors and low power consumption, AMD is building highly-integrated chips and has even licensed ARM’ 64-bit processor designs, something it has not done in years.

In addition to shifting development efforts to system-on-chips, AMD is implementing the so-called ambidextrous strategy, which is designed to allow AMD to timely design innovative SoCs, but at the same time slowdowns overall performance growth.

The ambidextrous strategy implies usage of similar building blocks inside completely different chips. While it clearly lowers development costs, it also means that AMD will be unable to leap forward one particular product line. Each building block needs to be developed for a particular process technology to be efficient in terms of performance. At the same time, each building block needs to be tailored for different product designs to ensure high-performance across the board. Hence, to boost the speed of one product by taking advantage of a new manufacturing technology, AMD needs to redevelop virtually all building blocks it has and tailor them for all possible designs to ensure maximum performance and power-efficiency across the product family.

Given the limited amount of engineers at the company, the firm will hardly be able to quickly respond to changing conditions and adopt the latest process technologies among the first ones, simply because its CPU/APU product lines will get too broad. AMD will have to be rather conservative with transitions to newer process technologies as they will require redevelopment of building blocks for numerous chips.

 

“Much of the transition over the past year is that now we are a system-on-a-chip company. That is the future and we will deliver the best technology for our growth markets,” said Ms. Su.

Unfortunately, AMD’s transition to SoC company is followed by massive layoffs as well as resignations of veteran engineers and executives. For some reason, many of former AMD employees flee to traditional SoC companies, such as Qualcomm or Samsung Electronics.