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AMD Makes Risky Move Toward
AMD Makes Risky Move Toward 'Ambidextrous' Strategy

By Jennifer LeClaire
February 3, 2012 1:20PM

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By picking up ARM, said analyst Rob Enderle, AMD would become the only vendor to offer both x86 and ARM. He suggested that AMD could perhaps blend both technologies on a single product. "AMD could develop a product that uses x86 in legacy mode and pull from ARM to get the battery life advantages in Metro mode," he said.

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While not leaping into the arms of ARM -- the relatively new chip-technology developed by UK-based ARM Holdings -- chip-maker AMD is hinting that it is less wedded these days to the traditional x86 architecture that it has always used.

AMD calls its evolving strategy "ambidextrous" and says it builds on the company's current strengths in x86 and graphics products while embracing other technology and intellectual property the company hopes will differentiate its products in a competitive market.

The Intel rival sees its future in HSA, or heterogeneous system architecture. AMD outlined its strategy at its Financial Analyst Day this week.

"AMD's strategy capitalizes on the convergence of technologies and devices that will define the next era of the industry," said Rory Read, president and CEO of AMD. "The trends around consumerization, the cloud and convergence will only grow stronger in the coming years."

Repositioning AMD

As Read sees it, AMD has a unique opportunity to take advantage of a key industry inflection point as executives continue the work they started last year to reposition the company. Read says the new strategy will "help AMD embrace the shifts occurring in the industry, marrying market needs with innovative technologies, and become a consistent growth engine."

A major part of the plan includes HSA, which promises software developers a way to program APUs by combining scalar processing on the CPU with parallel processing on the graphics processing unit -- all while offering high-bandwidth access to memory at low power. AMD is working to make HSA an open industry standard for the developer community.

"The battle plan that Read is articulating isn't to go head-to-head with Intel. He's suggesting going around Intel," said Rob Enderle, principal analyst at Enderle Group, who attended AMD's Financial Analyst Day. "Read was talking about going where the market was going, using whatever technologies they have access to in order to get there, including both x86 and ARM. You had to read between the lines to get the big picture."

AMD's Risky Business

By picking up ARM, Enderle said, AMD would become the only vendor to offer both x86 and ARM. He suggested that AMD could make the technologies interchangeable and perhaps blend both technologies on a single product.

"AMD could develop a product that uses x86 in legacy mode and pull from ARM to get the battery life advantages in Metro mode," Enderle said. "You'd have the best of both worlds. That's moving around Intel."

But it's a risky way to move around Intel. Indeed, some analysts are calling it a "swing for the fences" move. But Enderle said if AMD wants to compete with players like Intel, Qualcomm and Nvidia without head-to-head combat, this is one way to do it.

"AMD is taking a different path. It's risky because you are blazing your own path, but this market is defined by risk," Enderle said. "Big gambles don't always pay off, but when the competitors are executing well, sometimes you have to explore another path."

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