AMD Banks on Accelerated Processing Units

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AMD revealed new mobile and desktop platforms for the coming year, confirmed that it is launching a new dual GPU card next week codenamed “Hemlock,” and even gave the public a glimpse of its upcoming Fusion products that combines a traditional CPU and GPU in a monolithic die, at its annual briefing to financial analysts.

Meet the APU

AMD is dubbing its upcoming Fusion products as the “APU” or Accelerated Processor Unit, the first of which will be codenamed “Llano.” Llano will combine a DX11, gigaflop-capable, graphics core with a quad core processor on a single die.  Interestingly, Llano will not be based on the company’s new Bulldozer core. AMD will instead use an improved 32nm version of the current Stars core which currently powers the Phenom II.

Llano will be used in upcoming desktop and mobile platforms. The bad news for Llano is that it will not see the light of day until 2011. Intel is expected to beat it to the punch with its CPU cum GPU late next year. AMD officials, however, pooh poohed Intel’s approach.

“Fusion is not a CPU with integrated graphics. The vision is to enable these new data parallel applications to be run on the most power efficient architecture available,” said AMD CEO Dirk Meyer. With the APU, code running on the graphics side is encouraged, Meyer said, whereas Intel continues to believe the parallel graphics core is an afterthought.

New Platforms

AMD said come 2010, its “Danube” platform is expected to take up the desktop replacement and thin and light categories of notebooks. Danube’s will feature the “Champlain” CPU with two to four cores, DDR3 support, an integrated DX10.1 core and with a discrete DX11 option. Ultrathin form factors will see the “Nile” platform with the new “Geneva” dual-core CPU, DDR3, integrated DX10.1 and a DX11 discrete option.

The real deal will not appear until 2011 when AMD expects to introduce its new “Sabine” platform. Sabine will be the first AMD notebook to use the new “Llano” APU.   Thin and light users will get the new “Brazos” platform which features a dual-core APU dubbed “Ontario.” Unlike its quad-core sibling, Ontario will be based on the next-generation K11 / Bobcat CPU core that is the successor to today’s Stars core that powers the Phenom II and Athlon II.  Mysteriously, AMD would not say what process technology would be used to build the Ontario APU or any of the Bobcat-based CPUs.

The next year will fairly steady for desktops. For enthusiasts, the new “Leo” platform will see AMD introduce its Hexa-core Thuban core with only an integrated DDR3 controller and a new RD890 chipset. Mainstream users will get the “Dorado” platform based on quad-core Athlon II CPUs running DDR3 and the RS880P chipset.

As with mobile, 2011 and the 32nm process will see a complete makeover. Mainstream desktop users will get the “Lynx” platform which will use the quad-core Llano APU. Enthusiasts  will get the “Scorpius” platform which include an octo or quad-core CPU codenamed Zambezi. Zambezi will be based on the new Bulldozer core, use DDR3 and fit into – surprise an AM3 socket. Scorpius will be the sole platform not to feature graphics. AMD instead will depend on the traditional discrete graphics for enthusiats. The company, however, did say that an APU version of Bulldozer is in the works and could appear as early as 2012.

More about Bulldozer, Bobcat

AMD said it is ahead of schedule and is scheduled to release its next-generation Bulldozer and Bobcat cores on time. In fact, the company said it is expected to begin sampling Bulldozer, Bobcat and Fusion APU cores in the first half of 2010.

The bigger of the two is dubbed Bulldozer. Aimed at servers and enthusiasts, Bulldozer will be a modular design. Each module is a dual core with cores added to the die as needed for each product. Initially, a quad core and octo-core design will be produced. Of course, new instruction sets will be included as well as a new 128-bit floating point engine that’s optimized for the most comment floating point operations: multiply and accumulate. This far out AMD didn’t outline any clocks or cache amounts but seemed confident it would put it back in the game with Intel’s best.

As we said, Bulldozer will come in AM3 trim, but AMD officials would not commit to Bulldozer working in current AM3 boards this far out.

Bobcat is the mainstream and mobile version of the CPU. Also built in a modular fusion, AMD said it designed it for very low power consumption. Some versions will reach into the sub 1watt range which will open the CPU up to the mobile Internet devices and the Netbook formfactor. AMD said Bobcat will offer 90 percent of the performance of today’s mainstream CPUs with far lower power consumption and smaller die sizes. Bobcat is also a “synthesizable” design which is a departure for AMD. With synthesizable CPUs, engineers use software to design the circuits instead of creating each by hand. Similar to programming in C++ rather than machine code, AMD said there is roughly a 20 percent clock penalty by making Bobcat synthesizable but the power savings and the flexibility of it make it a “no brainer.”

AMD's Vision

In other updates from AMD, the company said it is de emphasizing CPUs in its branding which became confusing and instead will push a new Vision branding. Basic Vision is for looking at photos and video online, email, browsing and listening to music. Vision Premium is for those who convert videos to watch on portable media players, converting CDs to MP3, playing games or using a web came. Vision Ultimate will be for those who record live TV, playing graphics-rich online games, editing or mixing music, advanced photo editing or creating podcasts.

Finally, AMD execs confirmed that the company is prepared to launch its dual-GPU Hemlock video card as soon as next week. Hemlock is expected to be a dual-GPU version of the 5870 and is expected to sell at a premium price.

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