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HSA foundation gains Qualcomm

Qualcomm on Wednesday joined AMD, ARM, Samsung and others in the Heterogeneous System Architecture (HSA) Foundation, a consortium of semiconductor firms pledged to developing a single architecture specification for the chips that power PCs, mobile devices, and other computing platforms.

The HSA Foundation, which was formed in June by AMD, ARM, Imagination Technologies, MediaTek, and Texas Instruments (TI), has in recent months added Samsung and now Qualcomm to the fold.

"It's great to see an innovative company like Qualcomm, which has revolutionised the wireless communications market, placing their support behind HSA. With HSA, computing becomes much more power efficient, enabling member companies like Qualcomm to create unique and compelling experiences for the consumer," stated HSA Foundation president and AMD corporate fellow Phil Rogers.

Prominent names missing from the HSA lineup include Intel and Nvidia, owners of proprietary chipset architectures that may not see the benefit of promoting an open, heterogeneous standard like the one the HSA Foundation is pushing.

"This announcement is huge and with Qualcomm, the HSA Foundation now has most of the industry's graphics included. Intel is large enough to go it alone and Nvidia has a head start with CUDA, so it's too early to see the impact of their lack of interest in joining," said Patrick Moorhead, principal analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy.

Practically speaking, the HSA Foundation said at its formation that it intends to start producing and offering developer tools, software developer kits (SDKs), libraries, documentation, training, and support to the software development community as soon as possible. The foundation itself is "open to any and all computing industry professionals with an interest in driving the next era in computing performance and energy efficiency," the founding companies said earlier this year.

Qualcomm, an ARM licensee, said the foundation's goals dovetailed with its own interests going forward.

"Future Snapdragon processors from Qualcomm will contain substantially more computing performance and integrated parallel processing technology in order to meet the high performance, low power needs of our mobile customers," Qualcomm senior vice president of engineering Jim Thompson said. "We believe that developers will be able to deliver faster and more innovative applications on future Snapdragon processors if certain aspects of heterogeneous computing are standardised, so we are pleased to join the HSA Foundation to help define open standards."

AMD's role in a consortium of ARM licensees is probably the most interesting aspect of the foundation. The formation of the partnership has brought the company, which holds one of the few x86 cross licenses with Intel, and ARM, owner of the architecture used in most smartphone and tablet chips today, into closer collaboration. Though AMD, like its larger rival Intel, is mainly known for making chips for PCs and servers, the two companies have been quite chummy in recent months – leading to speculation that AMD may even be in the market for an ARM license of its own.

For now, the formation of the HSA Foundation appears to be a simple confluence of interests, with all the companies involved having a stake in the promotion of heterogeneous computing. ARM, for example, produces Mali GPUs in addition to its Cortex CPU designs, and AMD makes CPUs and GPUs, as well as its relatively new line of Accelerated Processing Units, or APUs, which combine CPU and GPU capabilities on a single chip.