RealTime IT News

AMD Preps Opteron For Embedded Apps

AMD is preparing to adjust its marquee processors for use in embedded applications, internetnews.com has learned.

The strategy focuses on altering AMD's entire x86 64-bit family -- Opteron, Athlon 64 and the upcoming Turion -- so that the chips can be used in new form factors like blade servers and in applications such as embedded Linux clusters. Executives with AMD are expected to reveal the details during a presentation Monday night with software partners including PathScale and Wind River.

AMD executives declined to comment on the specifics, but PathScale founder and vice president Len Rosenthal told internetnews.com that the shift is part of AMD's so-called "Longevity" program. PathScale is expecting to show how its various compiler, performance and interconnect technologies are helping to broaden AMD's 64-bit strategy.

"For some time now, AMD's customers have been looking for embedded support for 64-bit processors," Rosenthal said. "AMD has had embedded support through its older MIPS-based processors like Alchemy and some x86-32-based ones like Geode. They were traditionally made by building custom boards, but they lacked a low-latency interface. Various applications like baggage screening and image processing could definitely benefit."

Rosenthal said AMD is more than likely going to launch the initiative with its low-power Opteron chips, which have been shipping since late last year. PathScale has been a long-time supporter of AMD products, specifically working the links between AMD's HyperTransport interconnect to the larger-scale InfiniBand architectures.

While the PC market is agog at dual-core 64-bit processors, the embedded market already takes such chips for granted.

Semiconductor market research firm In-Stat said it is expecting embedded processors with four, eight and sixteen 64-bit cores this year. Sales of customer-specific, cell-based designs with at least one embedded block of 64-bit MPU are forecast to increase from a mere $91.2 million in 2003 to $1.85 billion by 2008.

"Most manufacturers today are using two 32-bit width processors rather than a true 64-bit width MPU, but this will change rapidly over the next two years, as more move to true 64-bit technology," Jerry Worchel, In-Stat analyst, said in a recent newsletter. "Similar to its predecessors, the 4-bit, 8-bit, 16-bit and 32-bit embedded processors, the greatest growth opportunity for the 64-bit width processor will be in a wide variety of Application-Specific Standard Products (ASSPs), which are already beginning to emerge."

AMD's other growth opportunity is that it plays well with both Microsoft and Linux. The company has been successful in garnering support from both camps.

"They are using a partnership model, as opposed to complete platform, to better compete with Intel and the other ARM vendors," Rob Enderle of IT research firm Enderle Group said. "Their primary value is price performance. They were able to pick up Microsoft as a strong partner thanks to Intel's active funding of Linux and Microsoft's own embedded platform, which dominates several critical industries."

In related news, AMD released a new development board for its low-power AMD Geode NX processor family. The board is part of AMD's non-PC Internet Appliance market. Along with its Alchemy processor family, AMD is targeting multimedia, access devices and computing devices, with growth opportunities in the consumer electronics and communication segments.

AMD said customers could use the processor to develop x86-based small form-factor devices including thin-client, point-of-sale or single-board computers.