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AMD to buy FPGA chip specialist Xilinx for $35 billion

US semiconductor company AMD has decided to roll the mega-merger dice once more with the acquisition of Xilinx, which will bring it into contact with the telecoms sector.

Xilinx is the inventor of the FPGA, an adaptable type of chip that you can reprogram even when it’s already installed. This is the type of chip Nokia bet the farm on, which turned out to be a mistake as customers weren’t prepared to pay the premium for these whizzy components. That doesn’t necessarily mean FPGAs have no place in the telecoms world, however. It could have just been botched execution by Nokia.

If any company can make FPGAs work in a telecoms setting you’d think it would be their inventor. Just today Xilinx, which seems to base its naming system around a desire to cheat at Scrabble, launched the Zynq RFSoC DFE radio platform, designed for 5G NR applications. Xilinx claims it offers the best balance of cost and flexibility between fixed function and programmable SoCs (system-on-chips).

“For the first time, Xilinx is providing a wireless radio platform with more hardened application-specific IP than adaptive logic to address low power and low cost 5G requirements,” said Liam Madden, GM of the Wired and Wireless Group at Xilinx. “With the market needs around 5G evolving, integrated RF solutions need to be adaptable to address future standards. Zynq RFSoC DFE provides the optimal balance between that adaptability and fixed function IP.”

This is the sort of thing AMD has decided it’s worth shelling out 35 billion bucks for. There has been little reason for telecoms types to have paid much attention to AMD until now. Historically, its main thing was being the only maker, other than Intel, of CPUs for PCs and servers using the x86 architecture.

In 2006 AMD had the bright idea almost bankrupting itself to buy GPU-maker ATI in order to benefit from the usual synergies that look so great on PowerPoint. In the event it fell behind both Intel in CPUs and Nvidia in GPUs, and went into the doldrums for a decade. The last four years have been kind to AMD, however, such that it figured it may as well chuck a bunch of its buoyant stock at another huge acquisition in the hope that it does a better job of it this time.

“Our acquisition of Xilinx marks the next leg in our journey to establish AMD as the industry’s high performance computing leader and partner of choice for the largest and most important technology companies in the world,” said AMD CEO Dr. Lisa Su. “This is truly a compelling combination that will create significant value for all stakeholders, including AMD and Xilinx shareholders who will benefit from the future growth and upside potential of the combined company.

“The Xilinx team is one of the strongest in the industry and we are thrilled to welcome them to the AMD family. By combining our world-class engineering teams and deep domain expertise, we will create an industry leader with the vision, talent and scale to define the future of high performance computing.”

“We are excited to join the AMD family,” said Victor Peng, Xilinx CEO. “Our shared cultures of innovation, excellence and collaboration make this an ideal combination. Together, we will lead the new era of high performance and adaptive computing. Our leading FPGAs, Adaptive SoCs, accelerator and SmartNIC solutions enable innovation from the cloud, to the edge and end devices.

“We empower our customers to deploy differentiated platforms to market faster, and with optimal efficiency and performance. Joining together with AMD will help accelerate growth in our data center business and enable us to pursue a broader customer base across more markets.”

As you can tell from the canned quotes, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of product overlap between the two companies, so integration should be interesting. Analyst Patrick Moorhead, who was an AMD exec at the time of the ATI acquisition, reckons they might not screw it up this time. There certainly seem to be new semiconductor opportunities created by OpenRAN, but whether that justifies shelling our 35 bil remains to be seen.


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