Dream of a do-it-all piece of silicon

Monday's calendar is getting more crowded by the minute: Android, Windows Phone and now an AMD press conference! The announcement should be about HSA strategy and so the inclusion of third party designs in AMD chips. I don't know about you but the inclusion of an ARM core in a x86 design gets my tech imagination running...

The main issue with the current CPU/GPU/APU market is that different pieces of silicon are for different tasks: high preformance x86 for servers and desktop, low power x86 for the laptop, ultra low power ARM for tablets and smartphones. To that add graphics: high power discrete for the desktop, low power discrete for the upper laptop segment, integrated for the lower one and than ARM to the tablets and phones. 

Even if some of the choices are taken by the hardware producer the consumer still ends up with a quite wide range of choices to make. Do I want a powerful laptop or a laptop I can take with me all day without a charger? The chip giants know that and are making a move in different ways: ARM from the bottom is enhancing performance mantaining low power, Intel and AMD from the top are reducing power and integrating graphics. I will leave for now the confrontation between Intel and AMD approach to the problem but the direction is the same: a do-it-all piece of silicon. 

The HSA principle is to create a modular platform that can contain different pieces of chips, potentially designed by different companies, optimized for different tasks and workloads (some more insight here). You throw some work at the system, it decides what component it is best suited for and gives the work to it. AMD is doing it now with their APUs.  Today the GPU in the chip does the graphic work and some other tasks but in the coming years, with HSA, the GPU module will be the owner of all that is massively parallel or floating point.

Meanwhile AMD announced that they will integrate an ARM A5 core in their low power APUs for specific security features it provides. But once that is done nothing forbids that they'll find a way to do more with the ARM core. Even if the cohabitation of the two architecture is a titanic problem to solve the possibilities are titanic too! When Intel sees it, chipzilla will be on it too in zero time! If all of that is achieved without breaking the compatibility with x86 and legacy software the possibilities would be huge!

Could we really have in some years a do-it-all APU? A high performance x86 core, an ARM core, x86 graphics and ARM graphics all on a single chip that you could use for a desktop workload done as well as give 10 hours of battery to a tablet... WOW! That's the kind of tech I'd like!

Of course the problems to solve are, as I said before, titanic but we can still dream!

Update: the actual announcement wasn't anything really bold on AMD's plan. The realization of ARM servers in the next years at least confirms that they are really committed in using the ARM architecture and exploring the possibilities.

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