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AMD becomes a chip designer for hire

Wants more work like Sony's Playstation 4
Tue Feb 26 2013, 16:52
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CHIP DESIGNER AMD is looking to design custom processors for consumer electronics firms.

AMD's role as a chip designer has generally been seen in the context of its own branded products such as the Athlon, Phenom or Opteron chips, with the firm also dabbling occasionally in designing chips for games consoles such as the Playstation 4.

Now following Sony's announcement that an eight-core AMD accelerated processing unit (APU) will power its upcoming Playstation 4, AMD has told The INQUIRER that it is looking for other 'build to specification' customers for its APUs.

AMD's APUs, which incorporate a CPU with a fully programmable GPU, have obvious cost benefits for a firm such as Sony, as it only has to design and buy a single chip. John Taylor, who heads marketing for AMD's Global Business Units said that AMD's APUs are "OEM and consumer electronics friendly", adding that they lower the bill of materials cost.

However Taylor said that AMD is now looking at building specific APUs for customers such as it has done with Sony. Taylor said, "We will look at doing build to specification versions of APU, and build to specification in this case was what you heard Sony articulate last week. Six months from now we might be talking about a different build to spec APU that might have some other interesting piece of third party IP in it and some other mix of AMD IP."

Taylor continued by describing the factors AMD considers before working with a customer to design what is effectively a single use chip. "There's definitely a business decision that goes into that - what's the predicted run rate, what's the thing going to sell at, what's the OEM or the [consumer electronics] company's commitment and how many years do they intend to use this product," said Taylor.

"So there's a business equation to how we decide to build an APU to specification but obviously in the case of Sony, it was the right direction for AMD to have taken as a company."

Aside from AMD's win on Sony's Playstation 4, Taylor described how AMD tries to sell its APUs to other firms looking for increased processing power. Taylor said, "Let's say it's a smart TV manufacturer, as one easy accessible scenario, and they want to build the most [processing] powerful smart TV, get much better with voice recognition, gesture recognition, go from Angry Birds to being able to play embedded first person shooters in that smart TV, they might have some of their own TV image processing type IP or networking IP, they might want us to build into a chip similar to what we did with Sony. And we're now looking at those kind of build to specification deals as well."

AMD's decision to become a chip designer for hire is not a bad move for the firm, as it clearly has a large library of graphics technology it can use to impress customers and its APU designs do, without a doubt, save on packaging and build costs.

The only problem for AMD is that it needs to show that its graphics technology coupled to x86 processing offers benefits over ARM's architecture and its own Mali GPU, which for some applications might be a hard sell. µ


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