Advanced Micro Devices, or AMD, are one of the bigger names in the desktop (and notebook) processor markets, offering a number of x86-compatible processors and video card GPUs often picked by the big name box builders for their computers. In these markets, AMD’s main competitors are Intel and Nvidia respectively. However, AMD has not sought to compete with either Intel or Nvidia in the mobile sphere, instead duking it out in the server and desktop markets. We did see AMD release a number of ARM-based processors in 2014, but these were destined for the server market rather than consumer devices such as Chromebooks, tablets or ultimately smartphones. However, today’s rumor is that this is about to change with a leaked AMD roadmap, showing a range of mainstream, low power and ultra low power processors in AMD’s plans. Here, we will be concentrating on the ultra mobile processor side of things because these are the chips we might expect to see in tablets, Chromebooks and perhaps even smartphones. And it appears ARM has a quad core Cortex-A57 based ultra-low power system on chip for 2015, built at the 20nm die size called the “Amur” application processor unit.
The Amur processor has a 2 watt “scenario design power,” which is a newer way of expressing the reference design heat output a processor may be expected to manage if it is used with reference cooling. If the hardware uses improved cooling, the processor may safely produce more heat (and presumably this means it may run quicker). It’s a quaint way of saying that AMD expect the Amur processor to be used in a chassis that’s capable of removing 2 watts of heat from the processor. And it looks like AMD will be releasing this processor into the mobile market at some point in the coming few months. What’s interesting about the roadmap, is that there is no mention of the big.LITTLE architecture, which is where the powerful (and relatively greedy) Cortex-A57 processor cores are paired up with less powerful, but energy-sipping Cortex-A53 cores, as these are more efficient at less processor intensive duties. The leaked roadmap also says “up to four” so it’s possible AMD will be releasing a dual-core and perhaps even a triple core Amur processor at some point.
For 2016, AMD are moving to a 14nm die size and a new custom core design called the “K12.” This Styx application processor unit, or APU, shows as “up to a two core” design, although it feels unlikely to be seeing a single core processor these days. The Styx also has a scenario design power of two watts, so it too appears to be designed for tablets and Chromebooks. The Styx system on chip will feature next-generation GCN (graphics core next) GPUs, too. Readers should not let the fact that the Styx is just a dual core processor sway any opinion as to the performance: the Nexus 9 uses a powerful dual core 64-bit processor and it is not held back by the processor! At this juncture, it cannot be said for certain what’s caused AMD to decide to sell into the mobile processor market. Perhaps the Amur and Styx processors have something new (and undisclosed) to excite and interest the market?