Could AMD start licensing ARM processor designs?

— 9:35 AM on April 28, 2011

Could AMD abandon its efforts to make x86 microprocessors and start licensing ARM's designs? The possibility might sound far-fetched—after all, AMD is by far the most successful x86 licensee, having done a reasonably good job of competing with Intel on its turf up until now. Nevertheless, EE Times says there's some evidence to suggest a partnership between AMD and ARM could be in the cards.

The site points out that keynote speakers from both Microsoft and ARM will reportedly make appearances at "an upcoming Fusion development conference." You might recall that, at CES, Microsoft announced Windows 8 would run on both x86 and ARM instruction set architectures. EE Times speculates that AMD might be planning to incorporate a mix of ARM, x86, and graphics cores into future Fusion chips.

Then there's a statement from ARM's CEO, Warren East, who told EE Times his company has been trying to sell CPU designs to AMD "for about the last ten years." East claimed not to have been successful yet, but he added, "AMD has signaled they are going through a rethink of their strategy, and that must provide a heightened opportunity for ARM. They might use ARM microprocessors in the future and you've got to expect that we would be trying to persuade them of that."

AMD would probably be foolish to abandon its x86 efforts entirely, but at least partially embracing ARM might make sense. After all, ARM designs are inevitably going to steal market share from x86 CPUs once Windows 8 rolls out, and even Intel is having a hard time building x86 chips that can match ARM on power-efficient performance. With AMD having undergone so many drastic changes lately, including the departure of CEO Dirk Meyer, some sort of deal with ARM doesn't seem entirely implausible.

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