Intel may use AMD GPUs

Intel needs graph­ics power. AMD needs cash. Both need to fight Nvidia. Gor­don Mah Ung re­ports

Tech Advisor - - Contents -

AMD al­ready owns the graph­ics mar­ket for games con­soles, and the next place it could plant its flag could be the last any­one ex­pected: Intel.

While ru­mours of a pos­si­ble deal cir­cu­lated through­out 2016, some­thing firmer arose re­cently when Kyle Ben­nett, long­time ed­i­tor of en­thu­si­ast hard­ware site, posted that the ink on the deal was al­ready dry. “The li­cens­ing deal be­tween AMD and Intel is signed and done for putting AMD GPU tech into Intel’s iGPU,” he wrote on his site’s fo­rum.

He later added a lit­tle more de­tail. “To my un­der­stand­ing, Intel has a team of about 1,000 en­gi­neers work­ing on their for­ward-look­ing iGPU tech­nol­ogy. Ba­si­cally, that work will be scrapped and that team and their work will be re­placed with AMD teams and tech­nol­ogy go­ing for­ward. There are also Ap­ple im­pli­ca­tions here as well, and this deal is good for Ap­ple as­suredly.”

As bizarre as such a part­ner­ship may sound to out­siders, the tim­ing makes it more likely. Kevin Krewell, an an­a­lyst with Tirias Re­search, laid out two pos­si­ble sce­nar­ios. First, Intel needs patent pro­tec­tion. Nvidia and Intel be­gan su­ing each other in 2009 over Nvidia’s nForce chipsets for Intel CPUs. The suits were even­tu­ally set­tled in 2011: Nvidia agreed not to build chipsets for Intel’s Core i7 CPUs, and Intel was free to build graph­ics cores with­out get­ting sued by Nvidia.

The price of Intel’s free­dom was high, though: the chip gi­ant agreed to pay Nvidia li­cens­ing fees over the next six years to­talling $1.5 bil­lion. Af­ter writ­ing the last $200 mil­lion cheque in Jan­uary 2016, the li­cens­ing deal is wind­ing down, which means Intel has to go shop­ping for patent pro­tec­tion for its graph­ics cores. As AMD and Nvidia es­sen­tially own the lion’s share of graph­ics patents in the world, de­vel­op­ing graph­ics cores is nigh on im­pos­si­ble with­out li­cens­ing deals.

Krewell said Intel could just ink a deal and be done with it. The sec­ond sce­nario, how­ever, is far more in­trigu­ing, if, as Ben­nett be­lieves, Intel uses Radeon graph­ics in­side of Intel CPUs. He ar­gued that the deal would give AMD some much-needed fund­ing. “AMD still has some sig­nif­i­cant fi­nan­cial head­winds with its debt load and needs cash to fund more R&D. The way I’d ra­tio­nal­ize AMD’s li­cens­ing of Radeon GPU tech to Intel is that Radeon would be­come the dom­i­nant graph­ics ar­chi­tec­ture of the PC mar­ket and out­flank Nvidia in graph­ics. If Intel then used Radeon GPUs for GPU com­put­ing, it would help push back on Nvidia and CUDA.”

Such a deal wouldn’t come cheap, but Intel was al­ready cut­ting cheques of $200to $300 mil­lion to Nvidia ev­ery year. “Intel would have to pony up some sig­nif­i­cant money to make this deal work,” Krewell ex­plained. “The amount of ex­tra cash AMD could make on roy­al­ties would be very ap­peal­ing to the share­hold­ers.”

Fans may be con­cerned that such a deal would all but give up the last ad­van­tage AMD’s up­com­ing Zen-based APUs would have over Intel chips. The firm’s Zen core could equal Intel’s new­est cores in x86 per­for­mance. Com­bine that with its much more pow­er­ful graph­ics cores and you’d have an in­stant win­ner.

Fi­nan­cial re­al­i­ties, how­ever, over­shadow any moral vic­to­ries. “Is it bet­ter to make a roy­alty on 80- to 90 per­cent of the PC pro­ces­sor ship­ments or fight it out for the re­main­ing 10 per­cent or 20 per­cent?” Krewell asked. AMD can make a lot more money part­ner­ing with Intel rather than com­pet­ing.

For its part, Intel has plenty of rea­sons to stop send­ing money to Nvidia. As the GPU maker busily builds mar­ket share in self-driv­ing cars, ma­chine learn­ing and more, it’s be­com­ing more of a threat to Intel (which is try­ing hard to get its own chunk of these busi­nesses). In AMD, Intel would have a part­ner that of­fered com­pet­i­tive tech­nol­ogy to Nvidia’s – and needed its money.

This fo­rum post points to a likely li­cens­ing deal be­tween AMD and Intel

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