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AMD Gets Cozy with ARM for Hybrid Chips, Security

By Pedro Hernandez (Send Email)
Posted June 13, 2012


AMD and ARM have teamed to form a non-profit group called the Heterogeneous System Architecture (HSA) Foundation. Joined by Texas Instruments, MediaTek and Imagination, the HSA's mission is to advance the hybrid processor market by developing a standardized heterogeneous programming model.

Hybrid processing is not new to AMD. The company's AMD Fusion Accelerated Processing Units (APUs) combine x86 processor cores with technology from the company's graphical processor unit (GPU) arm. APUs enable not only high-fidelity visuals, they also speed up certain tasks that benefit from the on-board, GPU-derived parallel processing subsystems — in theory, at least.

Outside of the high performance computing (HPC) arena, the software market is dominated by apps developed for traditional x86 architectures and, in recent years, ARM-based mobile devices. Relatively few software releases fully exploit APUs and similar approaches to computing.Server World Market Report

HSA hopes to change that and popularize hybrid chip architectures by courting developers, according to AMD Corporate Fellow and HSA Foundation President, Phil Rogers. "By aiming HSA squarely at the needs of the software developer, we have designed a common hardware platform for high-performance, energy-efficient solutions."

The companies have pledged to develop "a single architecture specification and simplify the programming model." Certainly, some standardization could help advance the field, but it's the cozier-by-the-minute relationship brewing between AMD and ARM that has the industry wondering if the they are charting a collision course toward chip giant Intel.

Once the king of netbook processors, Intel has made few inroads in the smartphone and tablet markets aside from a sprinkling of Atom-powered prototypes and the San Diego Android handset sold by Orange. ARM-based processors on the other hand power the vast majority of smartphones and tablets in the booming mobile market. Samsung's popular Android Galaxy handset and Apple's iPhone and iPad all run on low-power, ARM-based chips.

TrustZone Tech Integrated in Future AMD APUs

AMD, meanwhile, has been banking on technologies from its recent SeaMicro acquisition and its Fusion architecture to turn the company's sagging fortunes around in the server and PC processor markets. Another aspect of its strategy emerged today when AMD made an additional ARM-related announcement.

AMD is integrating ARM's TrustZone tech found in Cortex-A processors into future APUs using system-on-chip (SoC) designs. The move, according to the companies, "will help accelerate broader ecosystem support by aligning x86 hardware with the world's most broadly-adopted mobile security ecosystem."

The first step in creating a security foundation with the potential to span mobile devices, PCs and online transaction systems is getting developers on board. Next year, AMD is planning to ship development systems with TrustZone-enabled APUs. General availability is expected to follow in 2014.

Pedro Hernandez is a contributing editor at InternetNews.com, the news service of the IT Business Edge Network, the network for technology professionals. Follow him on Twitter @ecoINSITE.

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