This spring, AMD categorically denied a rumor that it would partner with ARM, saying it had "made a big bet on APUs, which are x86." The company has changed CEOs and literally decimated its staff since then; now, it suddenly seems more open to the prospect of offering ARM-based processors. MarketWatch got a choice quote on the subject from the chipmaker’s new CEO, Rory Read:
"At the end of the day, it has to be market driven and by the customer," Read said. "We have a lot of IP and a lot of capability. We’re going to continue to play those cards, but as you move forward, making sure that you’re able to be ambidextrous is definitely a winning hand."
Carefully worded as it might be, that statement represents quite a reversal from AMD’s previous position. Raymond James analyst Hans Mosesmann told MarketWatch he interpreted the statement like so: "I came away with, as AMD in PCs, we will continue with x86, but in low power stuff, if that’s what customers want, [AMD could adopt ARM]." That said, Mossman added that whipping up an ARM-based solution would likely take the chipmaker two to three years. We may not see AMD competing with the likes of Nvidia and Qualcomm right away, then.
ARM really could be AMD’s best bet for a quick entry into the mobile business. Intel has struggled to push x86 into handhelds for years, and that’s despite a sizable manufacturing lead and a massive R&D budget. AMD has neither of those luxuries, and its lowest-power x86 APU currently fits in a rather large 5.9W thermal envelope. (In contrast, Nvidia’s dual-core, ARM-based Tegra 2 chip is supposed to draw just 500 mW.)