AMD Semi-Custom Silicon May Power Atari's All New Ataribox

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Early last week, Atari finally revealed to the world the [hopefully] final design of its Ataribox gaming console. Pulling from some retro design cues that were introduced with the decade’s-old Atari 2600 console, the smallish box will do battle with the likes of the Nintendo NES Classic and SNES Classic in vying for attention of nostalgic gamers.

However, we still to this day do not know exactly what will be powering the console (or when it will launch). However, in an interview last month, Atari CEO Fred Chesnais confirmed that the Ataribox would be based on PC technology. That isn’t too terribly surprising given that the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 families of consoles are based on AMD’s x86 processor architecture.

However, commentary from AMD CEO Lisa Su during yesterday’s earning call might suggest that the chip company could have scored a design win with Atari for the Ataribox. This is pure speculation on our part, of course. The chips that AMD supplies to Microsoft and Sony are part of its “semi-custom” business. So, when Su was asked by Barron’s if there was another new semi-custom chip in the pipeline, she gave a rather curious answer.

Ataribox Backside View

She said that there is “one additional design that will ramp in the second half of 2018.” Su went on to mention that AMD would be mum on the subject until its partner is ready to discuss the project further. We have to also consider that Su mentioned this new prospect while at the same time describing an overall softness in the console market.

“In our semi-custom business, unit shipments were up sequentially and down year-over-year as we enter the fifth year of the current game console sales cycle,” said Su. “As we look at the remainder of the year and given the maturity of the current game console cycle, we expect semi-custom revenue to be down for the full year.”

We know that Sony and Microsoft don’t have any additional consoles in the pipeline that will be launching next year (Xbox One X launches in November), and the Nintendo Switch is running on NVIDIA Tegra hardware. Given that the Ataribox is supposed to be a PC-based system — which to this day still doesn’t have a launch date — it seems like the prime candidate for such a semi-custom chip from AMD.

However, if the 2H 2018 production ramp timeframe is accurate and this chip is destined for the Ataribox, it may end up going head-to-head with the inevitable Nintendo 64 Classic.