The number of bugs in a chip is relatively proportional to the number of transistors - Bob Colwell, former Intel chief architect
CHIP DESIGNER AMD has launched a "chip designer for hire" operation by creating a Semi-Custom business unit, with Sony as its first publicly disclosed customer.
In February AMD told The INQUIRER that it wanted to become a chip designer for hire, trading on its extensive chip design library and working with other firms to design custom chips. The firm has formalised those plans and created the Semi-Custom business unit headed by Saeid Moshkelani, who joined AMD last year from Trident Microsystems.
Moshkelani told The INQUIRER that AMD's Semi-Custom business unit will have access to designs from all of AMD's business units and has its own dedicated engineers. Moshkelani explained that the level of customisation that the customer wants will affect the time it takes for AMD to design a chip.
Moshkelani said, "It depends on the level of customisation. There could be customer A that says 'I really like this product that is on your standard roadmap but I have a piece of key IP [intellectual property] that is internal and I would like to customise on it', and that would be a very light customisation.
"And of course the time line from concept to take off would be very different from customer B coming in and saying, 'I'd like to have customised IP for it, customised graphics IP, I want my graphics IP to do this and that is not normally available', and we have to create a whole new IP for it and that would be much longer development cycle. In general, customisation process could go from anywhere between six months to 18 months."
Moshkelani added that AMD's Semi-Custom unit can design both x86 and ARM chips, but didn't comment on which he believes will be more popular. However he said that both x86 and ARM "each have their own sweet-spot" for customers. Given that AMD is the only company offering the chance to build custom x86 processors, it would be surprising if the firm doesn't pick up considerable business in this area.
Moshkelani said that AMD's designs are not necessarily limited to being produced by Globalfoundries and TSMC, the two wafer foundries the firm uses for its chips.
AMD touted Sony as the first customer of its Semi-Custom business unit, with the chip that is in the upcoming Playstation 4.
With Microsoft set to announce its next Xbox console this month, it is possible that AMD will be adding Microsoft to its client roster by the end of the month, and with high volume customers like Sony and Microsoft the firm should have few problems winning more business.
Games consoles aside, AMD's new business unit is set to be an important revenue generator for the firm as it does have an extensive library of chip design details, especially graphics designs, that customers can use in products.
Given ARM's success at licensing its chip designs, one has to wonder why AMD didn't make this move sooner, as it seems to be one of the best business decisions it has made in years. µ
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