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Intel vs AMD

Intel vs AMD
by Daniel Nenni on 07-21-2014 at 6:00 pm

 While listening to the Intel and AMD conference calls last week I was reminded of the ATI acquisition by AMD and the painfully long cultural assimilation that ensued. The title of this blog could just as easily have been “Custom vs Synthesizable Design Cultures” or “The Real Reason Why AMD is Fabless” because that is closer to how this blog ended up.

During my stint at Virage Logic I was the token executive assigned to ATI Technologies, which meant that if there was a serious problem I was brought in to help resolve it. Being a bleeding edge fabless semiconductor company and one of Virage’s largest customers there were lots of problems of course so I spent quite a bit of time there. ATI was a great acquisition for AMD as it provided both industry leading GPU technology and synthesizable fabless semiconductor design expertise.

Culturally speaking however it was an “opposites attract” kind of thing. Internally the ATI portion was called AMD Red while the original part was called AMD Green. The color coding was based on logos but psychologically speaking it was more of a traffic light theme with the ATI design culture stopping. Remember, it was AMD that coined the term “Real Men Have Fabs” which could have easily read “Real Men do Custom Design”. In the end of course the ATI culture prevailed and AMD became largely a synthesizable design company. Look at AMD today and ask yourself: Self, would AMD still be in business without the ATI acquisition? My self says no, probably not.

Intel culture however is still custom design centric which is why I was pleasantly surprised when they announced Quark at IDF last year. Quark is the first Intel synthesizable core that was reported to use 1/10th the power of Atom at 1/5th the size. It is targeted at new markets such as wearable computing, disposable medical devices, and the Internet of Things (IoT). During the Q&A with Intel CEO BK however it was disclosed that only Intel can synthesize the core so Quark would be a closely held product for now.

Here is the current Quark propaganda:

Right now Quark powers the Intel Galileo developer board and the Intel Edison microcomputer. Unfortunately I have not heard of any significant Quark design wins since the announcement but I still view this as an important first step in bringing Intel into the world of synthesizable design.

Which brings us to another question for self: Self, will Intel custom designed SoCs ever catch up with synthesizable SoCs from Qualcomm, Apple, MediaTek, Huawei, and Samsung? Again, my self says no, probably not.

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