For years now, Intel has dominated the CPU race with AMD in its shadow. After Intel pulled out their Core 2 Duo trump card, AMD had no choice but to go down the ‘value option’ route. Personal computing has gone beyond the desktop and we've seen seismic shifts in this space. With the new range of smartphones and tablets packing in quad-core CPUs, 1GB RAM and powerful graphics, the term ‘mobile computing’ has suddenly taken on a whole new meaning. Intel and AMD are no longer at war with just each other but they now have a third competitor - ARM. While Intel has made an attempt to counter ARM, we haven’t seen anything from AMD yet, so what gives?
AMD’s Zacate-based APUs were the last good mobile CPUs that I can think of, but they’ve yet to showcase a chipset for tablets and mobile phones. Intel’s Medfield CPU may not have been a runaway success, but at least they are trying. AMD doesn’t seem to have anything resembling it in their retail product portfolio. Their competitor in the graphics department, Nvidia, is actually doing a lot better than Intel with their Tegra series of SoCs. Sure they are using ARM chips for the CPUs, which makes it easier for OEMs to work with but the point is, they are raking in the moolah as their chips power today’s most popular devices like the HTC One X, Google Nexus 7, Asus Transformer Prime and many more.
Future seems hazy for the chip giant
This year, AMD’s Trinity APU’s were poised as the company's answer to the expensive Intel Ultrabooks. AMD promised us cheaper notebooks, with the same slim design and size as Ultrabooks but with better performance. So where are these notebooks? Other than a stronger GPU compared to Intel (which we all expected) the CPU performance was nowhere as good when compared to Intel’s Core series, which is why Ultrabooks continue to dominate till date, despite their ridiculous price tag.
Other than their graphics department, which seems to be holding up pretty well, they are sort of stuck in limbo right now as they have to focus on reviving their CPU division as well as think of something revolutionary for the mobile front, else they stand to lose all that market share to Intel once the flood of hybrid PCs comes gushing in and OEMs cling to Intel. It appears as though AMD may be heading down the same route as Nokia and RIM, two companies who have refused to move with the times and are now basically stuck. AMD may have some hope of getting back in the game with their 2013 line of APUs, which will integrate ARM’s TrustZone Technology. Intel has their own Trusted Execution Technology that provides security at the hardware level but AMD doesn’t have it and working on it from scratch would be too expensive, which is why they have licensed ARM’s technology. AMD isn’t willing to divulge a lot of details at this point but essentially, the APU will contain a CPU, GPU and a fully-functional ARM Cortex-A5 chip to handle the security bit. They’ll also have to figure out a way for the x86 chip to talk to the ARM chip, but the important thing to note is that the ARM chip should technically be able to handle applications as well. How AMD implements that into an actual product is yet to be seen but if they can leverage the ARM chip for more than just the TrustZone tech, we could see some very innovative products next year.
AMD may be down but they are certainly not out and this wouldn’t be the first time they’ve gone through a slump. I think they should stop focusing on high-end CPUs and concentrate on coming up with a powerful and battery-friendly SoC as that’s clearly where all computing devices are headed.