Chipmakers Churn

By Michael Feldman

January 13, 2011

This week’s maneuverings by Intel and AMD point to a couple of inescapable realities for the legacy x86 chipmakers, namely, mobile computing platforms are the new PCs and serious GPU technology is no longer optional. In short, the playing field for general-purpose computing is being leveled, and this relandscaping is working to the detriment of the x86 dynasty.

That realization appears, at least in part, to have encouraged Intel to agree to a new six-year cross-licensing deal with NVIDIA. The lawsuit settlement between the two chipmakers announced on Monday puts the rivals back on speaking terms. It also puts an extra $1.5 billion in NVIDIA’s pocket, the amount Intel has agreed to pay the GPU maker over the next five years.

Given Intel’s lack of a mobile computing presence on smart phones or tablets, and the fact that the Larrabee fiasco essentially foreclosed the company’s visual computing aspirations, Intel probably didn’t have much of a choice. NVIDIA, who offers viable technologies in both the mobile computing space, with Tegra, and the graphics/visualization space with its discrete GPU offerings, has managed to expand into two areas Intel deems critical to its future.

In a nutshell, the agreement provides cross-licensing access to each other’s patents. However, it’s not a license to repurpose one another’s chip designs; rather its an understanding not to sue each other when they bump up against their competitor’s patents. This is important because both NVIDIA and Intel own rich patent portfolios that apply to many areas of computing. Without such an understanding, it’s nearly impossible for engineers to design anything without inadvertently stepping into someone else’s territory. It gives both parties the freedom to build CPUs, GPUs, and everything in between without having to worry about who came up with the original ideas.

The agreement explicitly prevents NVIDIA from licensing Intel’s x86 cores, flash memory, and certain chipsets. But since NVIDIA just revealed its ARM-based “Project Denver” strategy for CPU-GPU integration last week, that doesn’t seem nearly the sacrifice it once might have been. Furthermore, NVIDIA has decided to exit the chipset business, so there was no reason to include those terms in the new agreement.

On the other side, Intel will not be slapping NVIDIA GPUs onto x86 chips. The CPU maker has had access to NVIDIA’s GPU portfolio since 2004, the year the original six-year cross-licensing agreement was made, but they don’t get to see the patents until about three and a half years after they’ve been filed. (This is very different from what NVIDIA is doing with its ARM core license deal. Under that agreement, the GPU maker will be provided with the netlist, the IC floorplan, and support — everything it will need to develop its CPU-GPU heterogeneous processors.) It’s unclear how Intel will use the new cross-licensing arrangement to move forward in the graphics/visualization space, but it certainly has more latitude to develop and use GPU technology than it otherwise would have had.

The fact that the transfer of wealth is going in NVIDIA’s favor indicates Intel needs the GPU maker’s intellectual property far more than the other way around. NVIDIA’s patents in mobile, graphics/visualization, and data parallel computing technologies are especially valuable, whereas Intel’s x86-based patents are of much less value to a fully-ARMed NVIDIA.

While this is great news for NVIDIA, and at least good news for Intel, it’s bad news for AMD. With Intel freer to use its considerable resources to pursue graphics and mobile technologies, AMD could face increased competition, especially on the GPU side of the house. And since NVIDIA is pursuing a very Fusion-like heterogenous computing strategy with Project Denver (and now has more patent leeway to design such chips), AMD is going to be hit harder from both directions.

It’s almost certainly a coincidence that the “resignation” of AMD CEO Dirk Meyer was announced on the same day the NVIDIA-Intel agreement was revealed. But according to many who cover the mainstream computing segment, Meyer was forced out by the board for some of the same troubles that are plaguing Intel, namely a lack of product in the red-hot tablet and smartphone segments. Like its larger rival, AMD has been heavily focused on the PC and laptop space and is a late entrant into the mobile computing market.

In a GigaOM piece this week, Stacey Higginbotham writes:

[Intel] has revised its architecture for better graphics performance with its Sandy Bridge platform and isn’t sleeping like AMD seems to have been when it comes to the threat to its business from ARM and mobile computing. On that note, AMD’s CEO Dirk Meyer resigned today, most likely as a result of AMD’s failure to move quickly a few years back into the mobile computing and now the tablet market. Even as recently as last June, AMD had no mobile story, with executive Rick Bergman telling me at our Structure conference that AMD doesn’t have “any immediate clients to serve the mobile form factor,” but that it planned to move forward on that.

Apparently though, Meyer was also blamed for losing market share in its server business. The Opteron, once the darling of server makers, has been steadily losing ground to Xeon, thanks to a rearchitected CPU, beginning with Intel’s Nehalem generation. Even though the company essentially invented 64-bit x86 computing, AMD never fully managed to capitalize on that accomplishment.

To blame Meyer for all this seems a little silly, though. AMD’s fortunes have been tied to its volume CPU and future volume CPU-GPU Fusion business for some time, certainly before Meyer took over the reins from former CEO Hector Ruiz in 2008. More than anything else, the company’s declining share in the server space was a result of Intel adopting features from AMD’s superior architecture.

It’s even more problematic to point to Meyer for AMD’s poor showing in the mobile space. Even Intel, with much larger R&D resources, has not managed to crack this market yet. The fact the x86 architecture is not particularly competitive with say an ARM, or even a MIPs architecture for low-power mobile and embedded platforms doesn’t help. And in any case, the software ecosystem in this segment now favors ARM over any would-be competitors.

Thomas Seifert, AMD’s chief financial officer and senior VP, has been appointed interim CEO, but the long term plan is to fill the role with someone more visionary and dynamic than either Meyer or Ruiz. Given the company’s dependence on x86 and its somewhat fragmented product set — CPUs (client and server), CPU-GPU Fusion processors, and discrete GPUs — it remains to be seen whether a new face at the top will have much effect.

The chipmaker churn we’ve witnessed over the past couple of weeks reminds us that there’s a new dynamic at work. Gone are the days when the x86 dictates everything in mainstream computing. The rise of mobile computing, the spread of graphics processor technology, and the importance of power efficiency are realigning the industry and shifting alliances. And this is likely just the beginning.

Subscribe to HPCwire's Weekly Update!

Be the most informed person in the room! Stay ahead of the tech trends with industy updates delivered to you every week!

Data Vortex Users Contemplate the Future of Supercomputing

October 19, 2017

Last month (Sept. 11-12), HPC networking company Data Vortex held its inaugural users group at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) bringing together about 30 participants from industry, government and academia t Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

AI Self-Training Goes Forward at Google DeepMind

October 19, 2017

DeepMind, Google’s AI research organization, announced today in a blog that AlphaGo Zero, the latest evolution of AlphaGo (the first computer program to defeat a Go world champion) trained itself within three days to play Go at a superhuman level (i.e., better than any human) – and to beat the old version of AlphaGo – without leveraging human expertise, data or training. Read more…

By Doug Black

Researchers Scale COSMO Climate Code to 4888 GPUs on Piz Daint

October 17, 2017

Effective global climate simulation, sorely needed to anticipate and cope with global warming, has long been computationally challenging. Two of the major obstacles are the needed resolution and prolonged time to compute Read more…

By John Russell

HPE Extreme Performance Solutions

Transforming Genomic Analytics with HPC-Accelerated Insights

Advancements in the field of genomics are revolutionizing our understanding of human biology, rapidly accelerating the discovery and treatment of genetic diseases, and dramatically improving human health. Read more…

Student Cluster Competition Coverage New Home

October 16, 2017

Hello computer sports fans! This is the first of many (many!) articles covering the world-wide phenomenon of Student Cluster Competitions. Finally, the Student Cluster Competition coverage has come to its natural home: H Read more…

By Dan Olds

Data Vortex Users Contemplate the Future of Supercomputing

October 19, 2017

Last month (Sept. 11-12), HPC networking company Data Vortex held its inaugural users group at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) bringing together ab Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

AI Self-Training Goes Forward at Google DeepMind

October 19, 2017

DeepMind, Google’s AI research organization, announced today in a blog that AlphaGo Zero, the latest evolution of AlphaGo (the first computer program to defeat a Go world champion) trained itself within three days to play Go at a superhuman level (i.e., better than any human) – and to beat the old version of AlphaGo – without leveraging human expertise, data or training. Read more…

By Doug Black

Student Cluster Competition Coverage New Home

October 16, 2017

Hello computer sports fans! This is the first of many (many!) articles covering the world-wide phenomenon of Student Cluster Competitions. Finally, the Student Read more…

By Dan Olds

Intel Delivers 17-Qubit Quantum Chip to European Research Partner

October 10, 2017

On Tuesday, Intel delivered a 17-qubit superconducting test chip to research partner QuTech, the quantum research institute of Delft University of Technology (TU Delft) in the Netherlands. The announcement marks a major milestone in the 10-year, $50-million collaborative relationship with TU Delft and TNO, the Dutch Organization for Applied Research, to accelerate advancements in quantum computing. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Fujitsu Tapped to Build 37-Petaflops ABCI System for AIST

October 10, 2017

Fujitsu announced today it will build the long-planned AI Bridging Cloud Infrastructure (ABCI) which is set to become the fastest supercomputer system in Japan Read more…

By John Russell

HPC Chips – A Veritable Smorgasbord?

October 10, 2017

For the first time since AMD's ill-fated launch of Bulldozer the answer to the question, 'Which CPU will be in my next HPC system?' doesn't have to be 'Whichever variety of Intel Xeon E5 they are selling when we procure'. Read more…

By Dairsie Latimer

Delays, Smoke, Records & Markets – A Candid Conversation with Cray CEO Peter Ungaro

October 5, 2017

Earlier this month, Tom Tabor, publisher of HPCwire and I had a very personal conversation with Cray CEO Peter Ungaro. Cray has been on something of a Cinderell Read more…

By Tiffany Trader & Tom Tabor

Intel Debuts Programmable Acceleration Card

October 5, 2017

With a view toward supporting complex, data-intensive applications, such as AI inference, video streaming analytics, database acceleration and genomics, Intel i Read more…

By Doug Black

Reinders: “AVX-512 May Be a Hidden Gem” in Intel Xeon Scalable Processors

June 29, 2017

Imagine if we could use vector processing on something other than just floating point problems.  Today, GPUs and CPUs work tirelessly to accelerate algorithms Read more…

By James Reinders

NERSC Scales Scientific Deep Learning to 15 Petaflops

August 28, 2017

A collaborative effort between Intel, NERSC and Stanford has delivered the first 15-petaflops deep learning software running on HPC platforms and is, according Read more…

By Rob Farber

How ‘Knights Mill’ Gets Its Deep Learning Flops

June 22, 2017

Intel, the subject of much speculation regarding the delayed, rewritten or potentially canceled “Aurora” contract (the Argonne Lab part of the CORAL “ Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Oracle Layoffs Reportedly Hit SPARC and Solaris Hard

September 7, 2017

Oracle’s latest layoffs have many wondering if this is the end of the line for the SPARC processor and Solaris OS development. As reported by multiple sources Read more…

By John Russell

US Coalesces Plans for First Exascale Supercomputer: Aurora in 2021

September 27, 2017

At the Advanced Scientific Computing Advisory Committee (ASCAC) meeting, in Arlington, Va., yesterday (Sept. 26), it was revealed that the "Aurora" supercompute Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Google Releases Deeplearn.js to Further Democratize Machine Learning

August 17, 2017

Spreading the use of machine learning tools is one of the goals of Google’s PAIR (People + AI Research) initiative, which was introduced in early July. Last w Read more…

By John Russell

GlobalFoundries Puts Wind in AMD’s Sails with 12nm FinFET

September 24, 2017

From its annual tech conference last week (Sept. 20), where GlobalFoundries welcomed more than 600 semiconductor professionals (reaching the Santa Clara venue Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Graphcore Readies Launch of 16nm Colossus-IPU Chip

July 20, 2017

A second $30 million funding round for U.K. AI chip developer Graphcore sets up the company to go to market with its “intelligent processing unit” (IPU) in Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Leading Solution Providers

Nvidia Responds to Google TPU Benchmarking

April 10, 2017

Nvidia highlights strengths of its newest GPU silicon in response to Google's report on the performance and energy advantages of its custom tensor processor. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Amazon Debuts New AMD-based GPU Instances for Graphics Acceleration

September 12, 2017

Last week Amazon Web Services (AWS) streaming service, AppStream 2.0, introduced a new GPU instance called Graphics Design intended to accelerate graphics. The Read more…

By John Russell

EU Funds 20 Million Euro ARM+FPGA Exascale Project

September 7, 2017

At the Barcelona Supercomputer Centre on Wednesday (Sept. 6), 16 partners gathered to launch the EuroEXA project, which invests €20 million over three-and-a-half years into exascale-focused research and development. Led by the Horizon 2020 program, EuroEXA picks up the banner of a triad of partner projects — ExaNeSt, EcoScale and ExaNoDe — building on their work... Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Delays, Smoke, Records & Markets – A Candid Conversation with Cray CEO Peter Ungaro

October 5, 2017

Earlier this month, Tom Tabor, publisher of HPCwire and I had a very personal conversation with Cray CEO Peter Ungaro. Cray has been on something of a Cinderell Read more…

By Tiffany Trader & Tom Tabor

Cray Moves to Acquire the Seagate ClusterStor Line

July 28, 2017

This week Cray announced that it is picking up Seagate's ClusterStor HPC storage array business for an undisclosed sum. "In short we're effectively transitioning the bulk of the ClusterStor product line to Cray," said CEO Peter Ungaro. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Intel Launches Software Tools to Ease FPGA Programming

September 5, 2017

Field Programmable Gate Arrays (FPGAs) have a reputation for being difficult to program, requiring expertise in specialty languages, like Verilog or VHDL. Easin Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

IBM Advances Web-based Quantum Programming

September 5, 2017

IBM Research is pairing its Jupyter-based Data Science Experience notebook environment with its cloud-based quantum computer, IBM Q, in hopes of encouraging a new class of entrepreneurial user to solve intractable problems that even exceed the capabilities of the best AI systems. Read more…

By Alex Woodie

HPC Chips – A Veritable Smorgasbord?

October 10, 2017

For the first time since AMD's ill-fated launch of Bulldozer the answer to the question, 'Which CPU will be in my next HPC system?' doesn't have to be 'Whichever variety of Intel Xeon E5 they are selling when we procure'. Read more…

By Dairsie Latimer

  • arrow
  • Click Here for More Headlines
  • arrow
Share This