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An ARM core in an AMD device? It just happened, but not the way you think

June 13, 2012

Yes, you heard right. AMD just added to ARM’s burgeoning heap of gold coins, having licensed the British company’s Cortex-A5 design for use in its own hardware. While this might sound like a dramatic capitulation on the part of the struggling giant, particularly after yesterday’s news, it probably isn’t. AMD says it’ll use the ARM component solely for adding better security features to its next generation of business-focused laptops and tablets. A spokesperson told us the company’s “commitment to x86 hasn’t changed,” referring to the fact that it’ll continue to use its regular in-house chip architecture for the primary task of running applications.

The Cortex-A5 will be one tiny core squeezed in amongst everything else on the future 28nm silicon. It’ll be dedicated to running ARM’s proprietary TrustZone technology, which protects sensitive apps from tampering — stuff like mobile payments, DRM, and nudge, nudge corporate documents. Rather than invent its own system for doing the same thing, AMD reckoned it’d be easier to work with ARM’s, and who can blame it? If we remember rightly, even Intel made a similar call five years ago.