AMD Fires Up 'Future Of Fusion' Rebranding

Advanced Micro Devices has abandoned its Intel-referential "Smarter Choice" tagline and replaced it with "The Future is Fusion," releasing a new software utility for gaming systems Thursday that marks the first step by AMD to rebrand itself around the integration of its microprocessor and graphics technologies.

AMD, headquartered in Sunnyvale, Calif., acquired graphics chip maker ATI Technologies in 2006. While impairment charges associated with that acquisition have cost AMD billions of dollars as the company suffered a series of quarterly losses, the chip maker has recently begun to enjoy significant success with its latest graphics products, according to partners and analysts.

Meanwhile, Nvidia, AMD's main discrete graphics rival, on Thursday announced plans to lay off 360 workers. The downsizing represents about 6.5 percent of Santa Clara, Calif.-based Nvidia's global workforce, according to the discrete graphics market leader.

AMD's rebranding effort seems to be leading up to the release of the chip maker's future Fusion Architecture processors and platforms. These products will feature tighter integration of central processors and graphics processors, including chips that will feature both compute engines on a single piece of silicon that AMD says it will ship in 2009.

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AMD's rebranding has been advocated for some time by partners like Brian Deeley, general manager of Timonium, Maryland-based system integrator Graymar Business Solutons. Deeley's take on the "Smarter Choice" tagline has been that rather than standing alone as a message about AMD, the tagline passively compares the company to its competition, Santa Clara, Calif.-based chip leader Intel.

"I've been telling them to go with something different, something that's their own. To stop making their entire message about how they stack up against Intel," Deeley told ChannelWeb at an Everything Channel XChange Solution Provider event in Los Angeles earlier this year.

It remains to be seen if "The Future is Fusion" is the right branding fix. The first release under the new branding initiative is a software utility called AMD Fusion for Games. Working in conjunction with AMD's Overdrive CPU overclocking tool and the ATI Catalyst Control Center, Fusion for Games is an adjustable utility that turns off assorted background processes on a PC to achieve better CPU performance during gameplay.

"Everybody who was passionate about gaming at AMD got together and one idea that came through was that we needed some kind of application that gives better performance," said AMD desktop gaming strategist Brent Barry. "But how do you do that without just overclocking the CPU?"

Barry said the application AMD came up with is designed to make it easy for mainstream users to shut down many of the 70 or so background processes that hog CPU and memory resources at any given time on a typical PC. The interface is a simple "on/off button" that appears on a user's screen.

Some simple tweaking of the utility is possible, Barry said. It features three profile settings -- the default "basic" and "advanced" profiles which shut down progressively more background processes, and an "expert" profile which lets the user adjust settings, overclock the CPU in conjunction with Overdrive, and even overclock the hard drive, according to Barry.

AMD Fusion for Games is available as a beta utility for download at The first iteration of the utility works with the Microsoft Windows Vista 32-bit operation system. Future versions for other operation systems, including Windows XP, are in the works, Barry said.

Next: A Resurgent AMD?

Partners say that even as AMD rebrands itself around its unique combination of CPU and GPU offerings, the company is starting to make headway against the competition. Only AMD's recent market share gains have come not against Intel, but rather at the expense of leading graphics chip maker Nvidia.

At a partner event held Wednesday at AMD's Sunnyvale campus, system integrators and video card makers told ChannelWeb that the latest ATI discrete graphics products, the Radeon HD 4000 series, have been cutting chunks out of rival Nvidia's commanding market share since early summer.

"Last year, our product mix was 90 percent Nvidia, to 10 percent ATI," said Darren Su, executive VP of El Monte, Calif.-based system integrator iBuyPower. "In mid-September, that ratio is already 70-to-30, and we expect it to switch around to 60 or even 70 percent ATI by the end of the year."

Michael Innes, COO of Inverness, Ill.-based ATI brandholder VisionTek, was only slightly less aggressive on his projections, saying that his numbers indicate that "ATI will normalize the market" at about a 45 percent-to-45 percent market share split with Nvidia in the coming months, with the remaining 10 percent of the discrete graphics market going elsewhere.

Those partners say that while AMD has certainly taken a beating that stretches back as far as late 2006, the combination of its recent graphics success and new initiatives is a promising sign for the company. AMD appears to have captured the high-end discrete graphics crown for the time being with its Radeon HD 4850 X2 and 4870 X2 cards. With mainstream cards also in place, the chip maker will complete its stable of Radeon 4000 series products in late September with the release of a $49-$55 card for the "value" segment, the HD 4550.

On the microprocessor front, AMD says it's on track to match Intel's 45-nanometer fabrication process for CPUs by year's end. And new CEO Dirk Meyer finally confirmed in an interview with Fortune magazine what analysts have been predicting for some time -- AMD is trying to unload some or all of its expensive, resource-intensive manufacturing facilities.

All of these moves add up to pretty good reasons to think AMD is about to look like a very different company -- and many would say it's about time. But in tough economic times that look to get even worse, will it be enough to push this struggling company through to survival?