AMD grabs more mobile CPU talent, opening a path to phones and tablets

AMD logoWe've been a little worried about AMD lately—demand for its CPUs is down, analysts think it's "un-investable," and it has long been playing catch-up with Intel with respect to laptop and desktop CPU performance and power consumption. The company continues to put up a fight, though: the latest evidence of this, as reported by Reuters, is that AMD is hiring Charles Matar, formerly of Qualcomm, and Wayne Meretsky, formerly of Apple and the Apple-acquired P.A. Semi. Smartphone and tablet chips are Qualcomm's bread and butter, and the P.A. Semi team is responsible for Apple's A4, A5, and A6 series of iPhone and iPad SoCs—both hires hint that AMD is looking to redouble its efforts to make low-power CPUs for use in servers and consumer products.

Matar will now serve as AMD's vice president of system-on-chip development. At Qualcomm, Matar was responsible for the Adreno hardware team that developed the GPUs for the company's Snapdragon SoC—combined with all of the GPU talent from the Radeon team, his hiring could point the way toward an SoC using an AMD CPU and GPU, rather than licensing a GPU design from the likes of ARM or Imagination Technologies. The move is ironic, in a way: while Matar himself never actually worked at AMD (at least according to his LinkedIn profile), Qualcomm's Adreno team began life as AMD's Imageon embedded graphics unit, which AMD then sold to Qualcomm in 2009.

AMD grabs more mobile CPU talent, opening a path to phones and tablets

Meretsky, on the other hand, brings software experience to the table, as befits his new role as vice president of software development: he spent two years at P.A. Semi before the Apple acquisition, managing "all aspects of hardware and software necessary to be competitive in the high-end embedded marketplace," according to his LinkedIn profile, and before that he spent nearly five years at AMD building the company's software development team and defining the x86-64 specification included in all 64-bit chips from both AMD and Intel today.

The hiring of Matar and Meretsky follows the August 2012 re-hiring of Jim Keller, who had worked on AMD's original K7 and K8 (read: Athlon and Athlon 64) architectures before moving on to P.A. Semi. Keller currently serves as corporate vice president and chief architect of CPU cores for AMD, and his experience in mobile chip making was noted at the time. The company's last CEO, Dirk Meyer, was famously ousted from the position in early 2011 by a board that was worried about AMD's absence in the growing smartphone and tablet markets.

We know for sure that AMD will be introducing ARM-based Opteron processors for servers in 2014, but we wouldn't be surprised to see AMD make a more serious, ARM-based play for the consumer end of the market at some point as they seek to become less dependent on the low-margin, slowly contracting desktop and laptop PC market. AMD's current x86-based tablet CPUs, codenamed Hondo, has been integrated into a new tablet from Vizio that the company showed off at CES—but has otherwise been mostly shut out by Intel's Atom chips and ARM-based SoCs from the likes of Qualcomm, Samsung, and others.

AMD's x86 and graphics experience would make it relatively easy to jump into ARM SoC development (at least, compared to a company with no CPU or GPU experience), but there's a chance that it's too-little-too-late. Chip development takes a long time, and competitors like Nvidia who made the decision to jump into ARM earlier have now had several chances to iterate on their early ARM designs—for some perspective, note that AMD announced its first ARM server chips a good two years before they were scheduled to ship. Still, it's encouraging to see signs of life from the company—AMD may be down, but it's not quite out.

Source: Ars Technica

Tags: AMD, ARM, CPUs

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