AMD and Qualcomm team up for LTE PCs

AMD now has GPUs and modems, Intel CPUs

AMD Ryzen logoAt Qualcomm’s Snapdragon Summit last week it was AMD that dropped the bomb. SemiAccurate was waiting for AMD to announce a cellular/LTE solution and the one they did should scare Intel.

The details of the announcement are pretty simple, AMD and Qualcomm are working together to integrate Qualcomm LTE modems into AMD platforms. It may not sound like much on the surface but if Microsoft’s vision of the future is anything close to correct, it should scare the hell out of Intel. Why? CPUs don’t matter, GPUs and I/O do and AMD just picked up the top bin of the one they didn’t have.

Lets start out by saying SemiAccurate doesn’t think Microsoft’s vision of the connected PC is going to save the category from the death spiral that it is in, connected crap is still crap. That said for the few out there that do need an always on PC, you want the connection to be the best one possible. Intel has the best in class CPU, AMD has the best in class integrated GPU, and mobile data is still an afterthought.

Intel has never been able to produce a modem that worked right or came close to it’s promised feature list. One look at the latest iPhones show the Intel modem is ~30% down on performance compared to a Qualcomm equivalent, and that is after Apple crippled the QC modem to match the feature set of the Intel one. Apples to apples, not allowed by Apple, the QC modem would be able to push ~50% more throughput. Worse yet the power used by the Intel modem to get to that 70% mark is significantly higher than Qualcomm, if you look at performance per Watt, Intel isn’t even close. To a crippled Qualcomm modem mind you.

What AMD specifically announced is the end of a year long technical integration program with Qualcomm to put a Qualcomm modem into an AMD reference design. This means partners, OEMs, ODMs, and the like can pick an AMD design and add LTE by more or less checking a box on the spec sheet. There is a lot of antenna design work to do as well but the reference design should have done the heavy lifting for those makers without the in house skills to do it. Those with the skills, HP, Lenovo, and Asus for example, can take the next step on the connected PC front.

On the software and integration, Microsoft has already done the hard work. They have integrated cellular capabilities, more specifically the purchasing and metering of bandwidth, into the OS itself. This was done to enable the Qualcomm 835 based notebooks but it should carry over to the AMD devices just as well. The drivers and low level hardware should be there and just work for users too, the heavy lifting was already done.

That brings us to Intel and their modems. If Apple is any indication, Intel is pretty lost on the modem front if the court filings are to be believed. Worse yet now that Intel is trying to pull a PR sleight of hand game around their wireless offerings, see their “gigabit class” messaging for more there, so they aren’t going to slap a Qualcomm modem beside their CPUs. If the past history is any guide, Intel will play the MDF game to not technically or legally preclude Qualcomm modems in their notebooks, but make it economically impossible to do otherwise. That and there is honor at stake. When you add in the non-technical marching orders for PR, there is no way Qualcomm modems will be featured in future Intel platforms.

So back to AMD. They have the best mobile GPU, so good that Intel is now using it in leiu of their own mobile offerings. The AMD CPUs are slightly worse than Intel in single threaded work but not by enough for an average user to notice. If the Microsoft and Qualcomm vision of the future is to be believed, graphics and I/O matter, CPUs don’t. With this new partnership, AMD is leading Intel 2:1 but more importantly is leading in the only areas that matter for the future. Intel should be very scared by this team up.S|A

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Charlie Demerjian

Roving engine of chaos and snide remarks at SemiAccurate
Charlie Demerjian is the founder of Stone Arch Networking Services and SemiAccurate.com. SemiAccurate.com is a technology news site; addressing hardware design, software selection, customization, securing and maintenance, with over one million views per month. He is a technologist and analyst specializing in semiconductors, system and network architecture. As head writer of SemiAccurate.com, he regularly advises writers, analysts, and industry executives on technical matters and long lead industry trends. Charlie is also a council member with Gerson Lehman Group. FullyAccurate