AMD Shows Off New Fusion Chips

AMD Tuesday said its first Fusion processors, which combine CPU and GPU technology on a single die, will begin shipping this week.

The Sunnyvale, Calif.-based company offered details of its product strategy emphasizing the Fusion accelerated processor units (APUs) at its annual Financial Analyst Day Tuesday. In the morning session, CEO Dirk Meyer pointed to several long-term industry trends -- among them the increasing importance of graphics capability.

"GPU technology is outpacing CPU technology in terms of underlying compute ability," Meyer said. The GPU is "more and more a first-class citizen next to the CPU," which in turn represents a "great opportunity" for AMD, he said.

Meyer then held up the first APU to ship from AMD: a low-power, lightweight processor codenamed Zacate that begins shipping to manufacturers this week. Zacate was designed primarily for notebooks, while AMD's Ontario APU will be targeted at netbooks and other small form factor devices.

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Both Zacate and Ontario will be generally available in the first quarter of 2011. The combination of graphics capabilities on a CPU could make the two APUs a serious challenger to Intel's Atom processor. "The story isn't just silicon integration and cost reduction, but also enabling next-generation user experience in the form of this platform," Meyer said.

Later during the analyst event, Chuck Moore, corporate fellow at AMD, described the architecture behind the APUs. He said integrated CPU-GPU platforms typically include two bottlenecks, one for each processor, whereas AMD's Fusion technology combines the two capabilities in one chip removing one of the bottlenecks, he said.

He also said improvements in memory are also helping systems with discrete graphics. "We've reduced the latency and the power consumption by avoiding that kind of data movement between chips," Moore said.

Moore said this also enables an "accelerated data parallel processing capability," creating an opportunity for developers to build new applications, and said that an advanced software ecosystem was needed for these new solutions.

NEXT: AMD Details Bobcat, Bulldozer

Chekib Akrout, senior vice president of AMD's technology group, offered details on the hardware of the APUs. Both Zacate and Ontario are part of AMD's low-power Brazos platform, which focuses on notebooks, netbooks and other small mobile devices. The two APUs are built on AMD's 40 nm architecture codenamed Bobcat, which features a sub-1 W x86 CPU core. As improved versions of Bobcat arrive in the coming years, AMD will reduce the size of the die from 40nm to 28 nm, Akrout said.

In addition to the Fusion APUs, Meyer also said he was "excited about the technology portfolio underlying our product roadmap" and mentioned another forthcoming CPU -- codenamed Bulldozer -- that's scheduled to ship in 2011.

AMD's Bulldozer is a multi-threaded, high-performance x86 CPU and includes a 32nm desktop version, codenamed Zambezi (4, 6 or 8 core versions), and two 32nm server editions codenamed Valencia (6 or 8 cores) and Interlagos (8, 12 or 16 cores). Akrout said the Bulldozer architecture includes two integer units, along with one floating-point unit, and two threads on separate integer units rather than a single-core solution.

AMD executives did not spend much time discussing the performance of the new Fusion chips. "The market doesn't care about head-to-head performance," said General Manager Rick Bergman. "It cares about who can offer the best experience."