New partnership could be a sign of greater things to come

At its yearly analyst meeting earlier this year, Advanced Micro Devices, Inc. (AMD) surprisingly suggested that it might be open to exploring licensed and modified ARM Holdings plc (LON:ARM) intellectual property (IP) cores as an alternative to x86, or to explore other licensing partnership with ARM.  At the time the commentary seemed very speculative, but we now have the first taste of a concrete licensing relationship between the companies.

I. AMD Scores TrustZone Deal

ARM and AMD announced Tuesday evening that AMD would be licensing the TrustZone technology developed by ARM and its partners.  Much like rival Intel Corp.'s (INTC) "Trusted Execution", TrustZone implements hardware-level security technologies for systems-on-a-chip.

TrustZone was currently announced for Cortex-A Series chips, but AMD's plan to include it on "millions" of accelerated processing units (APUs) represents yet another conquest for the licensable technology.

ARM Mobicore
AMD has joined other ARM TrustZone licensees like Mobicore. [Image Source: Gi-De]

AMD Senior Vice President and Chief Information Officer Mike Wolfe comments, "With AMD’s support for, and inclusion in, the expanding TrustZone ecosystem, consumers and businesses can rest assured their data and content are secured by an industry-standard security solution that spans a multitude of devices and operating systems.  This example of AMD’s ambidextrous strategy, which leverages our history of x86 and graphics innovation while also embracing other technologies and intellectual property, will help drive a more secure computing experience for our consumer and businesses customers."

"Ambidextrous" is a good way of describing AMD's present strategy.  The company's much smaller sales forced it to move out of the chip fabrication business, spinning off its fabs.  As AMD moved from the role of chipmaker to chip designer, it began to recognize the value of adopting a more flexible approach in order to stay competitive with its much larger rival, Intel.

Looking ahead it may behoove AMD to continue to produce x86 cores -- the same architecture used by Intel.  But AMD may ultimately design to try licensed ARM CPUs as well, an approach that its graphics rival NVIDIA Corp. (NVDA) used to become a legitimate contender in the mobile CPU market.

II. Pair Also Join up for HSA Effort

In related news AMD and ARM have also partnered up as founding members of the Heterogeneous System Architecture (HSA) Foundation.  The HSA Foundation also counts Texas Instruments, Inc. (TXN), MediaTek, Inc. (TPE:2454), and mobile graphics chipmaker Imagination Technologies Group plc (LON:IMG) as members.

The goal of the alliance is to develop a single "open" specification, which determines the optimal division of work for systems-on-a-chip consisting of CPU and GPU-cores, along with other components.  The group aims to develop cross-vendor SDKs and compilers, which leverage the adherence to the common specification.

GPU and CPU unification
A slide on HSA from AMD's February analyst day. [Image Source: AMD]

AMD and ARM claim HSA will deliver more powerful chips and better power efficiency -- two key goals of today's mobile-focused chip market.  The HSA SDK will leverage existing APIs such as Direct Compute and OpenCL.

Nothing is certain to those ends, but AMD's pickup of TrustZone and inclusion in ARM's newly formed HSA Foundation marks the start of a potentially fruitful partnership between these two veteran giants of the chip world.

Source: AMD

"And boy have we patented it!" -- Steve Jobs, Macworld 2007

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