AMD's Project Skybridge Brings The Device Fight To Intel's Front Door

Partners say AMD's Project Skybridge gives the chip maker fresh ammo against Intel as they both fight ARM-based device makers, such as Qualcomm, for relevance in the tablet market and 2-and-1 hybrid notebook space.

"AMD is a great company. Project Skybridge fits right into a cost-down strategy for the chip maker," said Stephen Monteros, vice president, business development and strategic initiatives at SigmaNet, an Ontario, Calif.-based Intel partner. "We are looking more closely at Intel- and Atom-based solutions, but price points are driving adoption. With Skybridge, AMD will be part of the discussion."

AMD Project Skybridge is an attempt to bridge the gap between x86 and ARM chip architecture by creating a single motherboard that would support either chip architecture and can run Windows, Linux or Android.

[Related: Intel: Desktops, Tablets Key Growth Drivers For Partners In 2014]

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AMD said Project Skybridge is a design framework centered around a product family that supports a variety of vertical opportunities -- including embedded systems, 2-in-1 devices, notebooks and even micro-servers -- to help customers innovate and reduce time to market.

"AMD is absolutely giving Intel partners pause,’ said principal analyst Tim Bajarin, president of technology consulting firm Creative Strategies in San Jose, Calif. "AMD is making a strong statement, saying, 'Don't rule us out.' AMD is going to be the only one doing this ambidextrous framework. The Qualcomms of the world are nose-to-the-grindstone working on Android. Intel is focused on Atom and Microsoft's Windows and, to a lesser extent, Android."

AMD's push to give OEMs and ODMs x86 and ARM options at the development level is a shot across the bow of Intel, Bajarin said.

Intel is committed to selling 40 million tablets and is selling subsidized Atom chips to Chinese ODMs to spur sales and development. By giving OEM and ODM tablet and notebook manufacturers the ability to design on a motherboard that supports ARM or x86, it allows them to streamline manufacturing and development, making the microprocessor an afterthought for OEMs or distributors.

Project Skybridge creates a one-socket-fits-all platform for PCs and embedded systems with a pin-compatible processors design that can use either the x86 or ARM architecture. The x86-based Skybridge APUs will utilize AMD's low-power, 64-bit ARM Cortex-A57 cores, while x86-based Skybridge APUs will feature AMD's next-generation Puma+ central processor cores.

"It sounds interesting, but the bottom line is price and performance versus what's out there in the market now," said Joe Lore, sales director at Sunnytech, an Intel partner based in Woburn, Mass.

As an Intel partner, Lore said, if the AMD strategy is to sway his business, he needs more proof. "Intel is demonstrating its Atom-based quad-core chips running in tablets against ARM, and the performance is spectacular. The Atom chips are superior -- no screen drag and things run a lot smoother."

AMD said it will initially go after high-growth markets with Project Skybridge, such as embedded systems and notebooks. In the 2017 time frame, sources at AMD said, it will likely go after additional markets such as microservers.

According to market researchers at MarketsandMarkets, microservers now account for 2.3 percent of the market. However, in the next five years they are expected to reach 25 percent to 30 percent of the global server market, worth an estimated $26.5 billion by 2018, according to the research firm.