AMD Announces ARM-based "K12" Custom Core, Pin-Compatible x86/ARM Chips Coming In 2015
These announcements are a major shift in strategy for AMD, which has always pursued an x86-centric strategy. Up until now, it looked like the move towards ARM servers might be a side business confined to the lucrative server market -- an edge play to see if AMD could gain market share in a hot area, but not a sustained focus for the company's business. That's now off the table; AMD is clearly committing to a combined x86 / ARM roadmap across the entire product segment.
As for the 16nm ARM core, codenamed K12, AMD was cagey about its benefits or capabilities beyond noting that it's a clean design based on the ARM architecture. As we discussed a year ago, most companies that license ARM cores actually license the physical design for a Cortex-A9, A7, or A15, but the company does offer an alternative architecture license. Only a few companies have historically gone this route (Qualcomm and Apple are two of the biggest), so AMD is entering a new field by competing with an architectural implementation of its own making. The company's custom architecture will be ready by 2016, and will likely debut on either TSMC's 16nm FinFET or GlobalFoundries' 14nm process nodes.
Finally, there's word that AMD has also built a new x86 architecture under Jim Keller. Keller stated that the new architecture will be "from scratch," but gave no other details on its design. A new microarchitecture could still leverage lessons learned from the Jaguar and Bulldozer products without necessarily inheriting IP from either part, though we'd be surprised if the chip was a completely new design -- history has typically demonstrated that evolving older architectures is typically a better path than inventing new ones out of cloth. Then again, after Bulldozer, AMD may have decided it needed a fundamentally new approach.
Interestingly, while Project Skybridge is advertising x86/ARM SoC pin compatibility in the same socket, there's no word on whether the 2016 core will continue that trend. Presumably it will, unless AMD has turned to other methods for ensuring that x86 and ARM code can run on the same silicon.