Recently, it was revealed that AMD had filed a patent for a hybrid processor architecture in 2017 similar to Arm’s big.LITTLE design, which brings higher performance computing and low power consumption together by utilizing both “big” cores and “LITTLE” cores. But a recent engineering roundtable for AMD revealed that the Red Team is holding back on the architecture and won’t be using it until operating systems can actually support it.
“We've been studying big.LITTLE,” said Joe Macri, the CVP and product CTO at AMD. “it's been 15+ years, so this is not a new concept in any way shape or form. We continue to study it, we continue to look at it.”
Macri continued to suggest that there are 3 reasons to actually implement the architecture: power efficiency, more performance, or just marketing (and subsequently, advertising more core counts regardless of the other 2 variables). And according to Macri, “at AMD, the marketing one we're going to throw out the window,” stating that “we're not going to do it just to have a bigger number.”
Essentially the hybrid architecture was designed for mobile phones, where higher computing power is in demand but also needs less power consumption. Intel liked the idea so much that they are supposedly integrating the new architecture in their upcoming Alder Lake-based chips.
However, operating systems aren’t yet designed to properly support the hybrid design, as an OS “loves symmetrical cores” according to Macri, and so a hybrid design will be a little too complex for now. “As you start putting asymmetries in the system, the OS has to get smarter. And the OS is getting smarter, it's starting to deal with that.”
“Just driving up the core count with little isn't going to be that useful until software comes along,” Macri continued. “Over time I think there will be a point when we are going to need LITTLE, and it will be a point in time when the OS has the right attributes, the right capabilities in its scheduler and memory allocator, we'll have the right memory subsystem.”
“We'll be able to give you not just a little bit better experience, but a much better experience. If we can't get that experience change to be noticeable, why do it?”
So AMD is essentially waiting for the right time, which is a clear jab at Intel who is jumping onto the new architecture for desktop PCs when their new Alder Lake chips arrive in 2021. Whether PCs and operating systems will be suitable enough to support the architecture by then remains to be seen, but it’s certainly an interesting idea that has caught the eye of some major chip manufacturers.
Amazingly, it looks like a lot of you predicted this very outcome, as when we last reported on it we asked you the question: do desktops need hybrid chips yet? To which an overwhelming majority of you (72 in fact) voted "no", whilst only 9 voted "yes". In the middle however, we had 19 votes for "soon", but that still doesn't come close to the 72 votes for no.
What do you think? Is AMD being smart about this decision? Will operating systems need to evolve to support the hybrid designs? Or is Intel getting their foot in the door to spearhead that evolution? Let us know your thoughts!