Today, AMD announced that it had reached a deal with ARM to license that latter’s 64-bit CPU designs to create a new server due out by early 2014.
As part of the arrangement, AMD gets access to new 64-bit ARM CPU designs, which it plans to incorporate into the next generation of its Opteron brand of server chips. While AMD has lost substantial ground to Intel in the x86 war, they remain highly competitive in the server market (though even there, their marketshare continues to wane).
It isn’t AMD’s first flirtation with ARM-based CPU; ATI started an Imageon line of SoCs that combined ARM CPUs with ATI graphics technologies. The Imageon continued on for some time after the acquistion of ATI by AMD, before it was eventually spun down and sold off.
It will, however, be their first real push out of the comfortable x86 path they’ve inhabited these past few decades.
The #2 chipmaker plans to market the new ARM Opterons to companies such as HP and Dell, both of whom have researched and toyed with ARM-based servers in the past. While ARM still doesn’t seem able to compete with x86 for high performance computing, in this instance, the chips would excel at the types of extremely parallel workloads from which larger data centers suffer.
AMD would also market the new server CPUs in its own server company, SeaMicro, which is one of its most recent acquisitions.
The specific design that AMD plans to license is still kept under wraps by ARM, so we can’t be sure just quite what the new chips can handle. For its part, AMD hopes that its SeaMicro business will be able to stand apart from the crowd thanks to proprietary integration and clustering technologies.
Competitor Intel has likewise played around with ARM (the XScale chip, in conjunction with Marvell), but abandoned the prospects long ago. It plans to take AMD on with new Intel Atom designs, some of which have already made it into experimental server products.