Last week, we reported that AMD has delayed the tapeout of its next-generation APU, codenamed Kaveri, in order to improve the part’s performance and capability. This means we won’t see a follow-up to Piledriver until 2014, as it typically takes at least a year for a foundry to ramp a part to full production.
Now, rumors are flying that AMD has canceled Kaveri altogether and that it intends to terminate “big core” development in favor of Kabini-based hardware and new ARM parts. SemiAccurate is reporting that AMD killed its big-core design team in the last round of layoffs, effectively canceling both Steamroller (the CPU half of Kaveri) and Excavator.
According to AMD, this simply isn’t the case. We spoke with Phil Hughes, senior AMD spokesperson, who told us “Kaveri with the Steamroller core is still a product in development at AMD and we continue to develop big cores.”
Obviously, AMD has enormous reasons to want to control this type of leak and only announce a product cancelation on its own terms, but we’re inclined to believe the company in this case.
Why killing Steamroller doesn’t make much sense
We’ve criticized AMD’s overall level of communication since the layoffs last year, but the work on Steamroller was sufficiently advanced for the company to release details about the core at Hot Chips last summer. Even if CEO and President of AMD Rory Read plans to leave the “big core” business behind in the long-term, AMD still needs products it can bring to market while it ramps up Kabini and works on its ARMv8 architecture. Asking Piledriver to carry the desktop line through 2013 is already a last-ditch maneuver; trying to hold 2014 with a two-year-old core would put a bullet in AMD’s desktop market share.
AMD still needs that market share, even if the company’s long-term future is in other areas. That means it needs Steamroller and Kaveri.
That said, Hughes comment only referred to Steamroller. It’s possible that AMD has killed Excavator in favor of an entirely different design. It could be planning to scale Jaguar’s (second-generation Brazos) CPU core upwards to fill a gap in the lower end of the desktop market that Trinity currently addresses. We’ve heard rumors that the company might try to build a new CPU architecture to address Bulldozer’s faults rather than trying to refine the current core into something that competes with Intel’s current high-end chips.
Based on what we know so far, it makes more sense to bring Steamroller/Kaveri to market, even if the Bulldozer architecture is abandoned thereafter. Killing the core outright without a successor ready to launch would be extremely dangerous, and AMD’s market position and stock price are precarious enough.