AMD: ARM's power advantages could wane in the coming years

AMD: ARM's power advantages could wane in the coming years

Summary: In the short term, ARM chips will continue to have a low-power advantage over processors from x86 chipmakers like Intel and AMD, but eventually this advantage will disappear, according to AMD.


ARM's power advantages over typical x86 chips from Intel and AMD will continue for around half a decade before fading away, according to AMD.

Yesterday, AMD announced it would start making ARM-based servers in 2014, and today Suresh Gopalakrishnan, general manager of AMD's server business unit, told ZDNet that ARM's power advantages could be short-lived.

"If you increase the capabilities of the [ARM] processor, it will consume more power. At the same time, if you start working on the [x86] architecture and process together you can bring the power down as well," Gopalakrishnan told me. "Right now ARM has the [power] advantage - five years down the road we'll see."

In the future, Intel will bring in new energy-thrifty chips built on its advanced 14nm and 10nm fabrication methods, which will help it lower their power consumption, while ARM's chips will consume more power as more features are added to them to let them tackle more advanced server workloads.

So, in a few years, the power advantages which are propelling ARM's chips into cloud datacentres like Facebook's could fade as technological forces conspire to close the gap in electricity usage.

Why is AMD licensing ARM for servers now then? Because it can bring the 64-bit chips out years before the power window closes, Gopalakrishnan said.

Along with this, by pairing ARM chips with a dense networking fabric, like AMD SeaMicro's Freedom Fabric, there's a chance to create some novel server designs: "You will see very dense clusters tuned towards a certain class of workloads," Gopalkrishnan said. Some of these workloads will be ARM and some will be AMD.

As AMD says, the future is 'ambidextrous' and from 2014 it's going to have an x86 hand and an ARM hand. However, for how long this will remain is a mystery if the power advantages disappear.

Topic: Cloud

Jack Clark

About Jack Clark

Currently a reporter for ZDNet UK, I previously worked as a technology researcher and reporter for a London-based news agency.

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  • Bogus logic

    "In the future, Intel will bring in new energy-thrifty chips built on its advanced 14nm and 10nm fabrication methods, which will help it lower their power consumption, while ARM's chips will consume more power as more features are added to them to let them tackle more advanced server workloads."

    So are you saying ARM processors will not benefit from regular shrinks? Surely not.
    • Most silicon manufacturers struggle to match Intel's capabilities

      Intel is typically several years ahead of other silicon wafer manufacturers and will likely remain well ahead of the game for many years to come.

      But the reality is that while ARM does have a significant power-consumption advantage right now, it does so at the expense of computing horsepower: In order for ARM to close the horsepower gap with x86, it has to build chips with bigger caches, deeper execution pipelines, 64-bit execution and ALU units, decent virtualization capabilities, etc. This will mean that future ARM chips will need many more transistors and they'll require more power.

      In the meantime, Intel will be shrinking their manufacturing processes faster than most while also investing in the architecture of their chips to, for example, allow their CPU's various capabilities to be turned on/off and/or scaled in terms of power vs. horsepower more dynamically than they do today.

      The net result is that ARM chips will inevitably increase in sophistication and require more power while Intel's chips will increase in agility while reducing power through smarter architectures and manufacturing processes.

      Needless to say: we consumers of these technologies will all benefit from the fight that will take place over the coming years!
      • ARM will benefit but they will converge...

        Hey D. T. Long,
        Thanks for commenting - Intel's fabs are around 2/3 years ahead of the processes being brought in by GloFlo/TSMC/Samsung, so Intel's chips will step down in power faster than ARM's in the short term, so convergence will happen. Though I suppose they could then diverge again but this is unlikely due to chance of ARM chips scaling up power use to provide further enterprise features such as sophisticated on-chip IO.
        Thanks for commenting,
        Jack Clark
    • I think you miss the point.

      The article is simply saying, once shrinks are taken into account on all sides and capabilities become more closer matched on all sides the power advantage now enjoyed by ARM chips may well become negligable.

      This tends to make some sense.

      If you do not fully understand this still, then you simply do not understand just how far ARM chips have to go feature wise to get to where they will eventually be. ARM chips are good, but they are not magical.
  • AMD is right about this

    ARM has power advantages, but if Intel made a 20nm Pentium III, it would likely have about the same level of processing power as the average ARM chip. ARM chips aren't fast for calculations, but everyone seems to think they are these amazing little chips that have half-decent (and I do mean HALF-decent) graphics capabilities that will run 6-year old 3D features and HD multimedia without cooling. If Intel really wanted to get into the low-power (and low-performance) multimedia chips, they could easily take a page out of AMD's playbook and buy up a more experienced GPU maker and scale x86-core performance right back. x86 is their legacy though, and that's all they're really focussing. AMD sees it more like ARM: streaming huge amounts of simpler RISC instructions in a scalable architecture. I'll be the first in line for an ARM APU too. ARM graphics are *JUST* okay, but are nowhere near where they are on x86. I want to see AMD's DX11+ graphics integrated into an APU with ARM cores, and I want it to be a LOT of ARM cores. Minimum 8. I don't really care if the chip has a heatsink (so long as it doesn't need a fan) if it means I can multi-thread like a champ and get some of AMD's relatively low-power DX11+ graphics.
  • More bad news for Intel..

    AMD 64 bit IP and high end GPU experience will convert ARM 64 bit chips into a force to recon with for anybody. Intel should have partnered with AMD instead of trying to unethically destroy it and force AMD to partner with other companies. These are going to be bad years for Intel since they don't have high end GPU technology and their foundry advantage is just temporary.

    Intel 10 nm or 14 nm technology may be history when IBM releases their new carbon based chip technology and all of the Intel chip foundries will be obsoleted. GlobalFoundry and TSNM, too, will have similar technology soon. When Intel lowers it's power to current ARM levels, ARM chips will already be a generation ahead of the current levels. Intel as a company can't maintain current profits margins as ARM and AMD can and are used to, so Intel will continue to feel the profit margin loses for years to come since they have to invest a lot of money in research and catching up technology while they are losing their old market pie.
    • Oh, here we go again.

      Good lord. Another basless prediction.

      Honestly, if there were any chance at all of Intel chips becoming obsolite in the near future, do you not think Intel has at least as much brains as the LIKES OF YOU to see this possibility coming??

      DO you not think there would be already actions in place and further actions already passing the contemplation stage where people would notice that Intel seems to be moving in curious new directions?

      Of course Intel would be doing this exact kind of thing if they had any real fears of going down the drain the way you suggest. And they are not.

      About all else that could be said of this rediculous prediction of yours is that if it does come true in the next few years, you can bet more than a few high tech companies will be knocking on your door with huge checks in hand ready to pay the really big bucks for your next big prediction.

      Good luck. Keep it up. We all have hopes of winning the lottery I guess.
  • ARMs power lead will be much shorter than 5 years. Also intel chips will

    retain a great perf advantage at equivalent power, so fewer will be needed per workload. AMD does nothing to help any ARM chips get to 14 then 10 nm as AMD is at least 5 years behind intel on this itself. Expect intel to move heavily into the mobile tablet space next year and the smartphone space the year after that.
    Johnny Vegas
    • ARM and AMD are fabless.

      ARM and AMD are fabless. They don't have chip foundries themselves. From GlobalFoundries announcements, they will have their 14 nm 3D FinFET transistor production capability with planar technology on 2014. Intel is due for 2013, if Intel makes it since Intel always does a lot of marketing years in advance. TSMC has it's 20nm process technology released on 20 nm and risk production of chips using 16nm FinFET fabrication process sometime in November, 2013.

      You guys like to stick with Intel that's all good, but Intel hasn't gone anywhere for years, and even worst in the next couple of years where their market is shrinking as fast as their stock. Mobile is not high profit and is over-populated, tablets are the same, workstations sales are shrinking, desktops are becoming history, so where do you really think Intel is heading now that they don't own the market any more.

      Have you guys realized that an Intel system without an NVDIA or and AMD high end GPU in their system, it will have worthless performance? Do you know that Ivy Bridge and Sandy Bridge gpu graphics performance still sucks big time? and now that NVIDIA and AMD will both have high end 64 bit ARM processors ( in addition to AMD's 64 bit x86 processors), Intel will not be able to maintain profits that it gets from overcharging for hardware like it always have done.