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AMD joins forces with ARM Holdings to battle common rival Intel

Published: Thursday, June 14, 2012

Updated: Thursday, June 14, 2012 10:06

 

AUSTIN, Texas - Advanced Micro Devices Inc. and ARM Holdings PLC appear to be teaming up to do battle with their common rival, Intel Corp.

The two companies said they plan to incorporate ARM's TrustZone security technology into AMD microprocessors starting next year. TrustZone is a security environment developed by ARM that supports a variety of security software programs.

Analysts see the move as a counter to Intel's heavy investment in extending security technology into its processors. Last year, Intel bought McAfee, a leading personal computer security software company, for $7.7 billion and said that it intended to incorporate its security technology into its computer processor chips.

Intel, the largest and richest company in the semiconductor industry, is the dominant supplier of processor chips for the personal computer market. AMD, which is headquartered in Sunnyvale, Calif., but has most of its operations and about 2,500 employees in Austin, is its much smaller rival.

But ARM, which is based in the United Kingdom, is the dominant source of low-power processor chips that control smartphones. ARM licenses its basic low-power designs to other companies, including Samsung Electronics Co., that make the chips.

TrustZone, which is ARM's established security system, is the dominant security technology for smartphones and tablets. The alliance with AMD would give ARM's technology a presence in personal computers and eventually servers, the workhorse computers that run Internet data centers.

"Security needs to be present in every single device. The challenge that the industry faces is how to make this a reality," said Ian Drew, executive vice president for strategy at ARM. "The aim (of the partnership with AMD) is to make security accessible and consistent for consumers and business users across all computing devices."

Leendert van Doorn, an AMD corporate fellow who has been heavily involved with ARM, said the two companies have been working together since early last year. The idea, he said, was for AMD to partner with and adopt a widely used security standard to be able to make use of the extensive software already developed for ARM chips. It will do that by incorporating a small ARM processing "core" onto future AMD chips. The ARM Cortex A5 core will be used, and its sole function is to run TrustZone software.

The new core will be incorporated into low-power systems chips that AMD intends to introduce next year for low-end laptop computers and tablet devices. AMD expects to extend the security function to all of its personal computer desktop and laptop chips by 2014.

The security partnership between the two companies followed their agreement announced Tuesday to be part of a new software development consortium to find better ways to develop software for chips that include a central processor and a graphics processor on the same piece of silicon. In addition to ARM and AMD, the new group, called the Heterogeneous System Architecture Foundation, includes Imagination Technologies, MediaTek Inc. and Texas Instruments, which are all heavily involved in the cellphone market.

The companies will work together to find better ways to write software for new complex hybrid chips, which are expected to be widely used in computers and smartphones.

Analyst Patrick Moorhead, with Moor Insights & Strategy, said the technology and security announcements represent some of the biggest technical announcements by AMD in years.

The security announcement, Moorhead said, is "a judo move by AMD because they can leverage all the third-party security software programs that work with the ARM TrustZone."

Analyst Nathan Brookwood with Insight 64 said the alliance of AMD and ARM makes sense because together they can attract more interest from more independent software companies to create programs that run on their chips.

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