AMD Talks Bulldozer, Hemlock and Fusion

If chip makers competed on the basis of code names rather than products then Advanced Micro Devices might have beaten Intel a long time ago.

At its financial analyst day Wednesday, AMD laid out its plans for a dizzying array of upcoming PC chips with names like Bulldog, Bulldozer, Danube, Brazos and Ontario.

The onslaught starts with a high-end graphics chip code-named Hemlock that will go on sale next week, priced at about US$400 to $500. It comprises two GPUs and delivers five teraflops of graphics computing power, according to Rick Bergman, senior vice president and general manager of AMD's products group.

Four new PC processors will follow in the first half of next year, including a quad-core notebook chip that aims to give seven hours of battery life, and a six-core chip for high-end desktops that includes AMD's Eyefinity multi-display technology for gamers, Bergman said.

AMD also described plans to bring its new Fusion chips to desktop and laptop PCs in the first half of 2011, starting with a product code-named Llano.

Fusion, which AMD has been talking up for several years, will combine a graphics chip and a general-purpose CPU on the same piece of silicon, which AMD says will lead to faster performance and lower power consumption.

Llano, the first Fusion chip, will have about a billion transistors and be manufactured on a 32-nanometer process, Bergman said. For comparison, AMD's current Phenom II processor has 758 million transistors and is made with a 45-nanometer process.

Llano will appear in mainstream laptops in 2011 as part of a platform called Sabine, which will have four CPU cores and support DDR3 memory and DirectX 11 graphics, Bergman said.

For mainstream desktops, Llano will appear at about the same time in a platform called Lynx, which will also support DDR3 memory and include up to four CPU cores.

AMD also discussed two new x86 architectures it is developing -- Bulldozer, for larger and more powerful chips that will go in servers, desktops and laptops, and Bobcat, which is designed to use less power for ultrathin laptops and netbooks.

Bulldozer will appear first in 2011 as part of the Scorpius platform for high-end enthusiast desktops. It will be offered in four- and eight-core versions and be coupled with DDR3 memory and a discrete graphics chip. A dual-core Bobcat processor will also come in 2011, as part of a platform called Brazos, which will include a Fusion chip known as Ontario.

Having spun off its manufacturing facilities earlier this year, AMD is redoubling its efforts to design new products that can help with its perennial task of clawing away market share from Intel.

President and CEO Dirk Meyer suggested that the antitrust cases against Intel, which have been waged in Europe and Asia and recently began afresh in the U.S., will create a more level playing field for AMD.

"I'm looking forward to a future where our ability to succeed in business is governed by the quality of our products and our customer relationships. That hasn't always been true in the past but in the future it will be," he said.

It's an uphill battle for AMD, however. Intel extended its share of CPU shipments to 81.1 percent in the third quarter, while AMD's share declined slightly to 18.7 percent, according to figures from IDC.

Nor is Intel standing still. The company is developing its own new x86 architecture, dubbed Sandy Bridge, which will succeed the current Nehalem design. AMD hopes combining the CPU and GPU chips together will be enough to distinguish itself.

Asked how Fusion will square up against Sandy Bridge, Meyer insisted that Fusion does more than merely combine a CPU and a GPU on a single chip. Developers will be able to write programs that can allocate tasks to the GPU or CPU, depending on which will be most energy-efficient, he said.

The company will need to ensure software developers have the tools they need to take advantage of Fusion, however, including a development framework, software libraries and debuggers, said Chekib Akrout, general manager of AMD's Technology Group.

To exploit the CPU-GPU architecture, developers will need to "slice applications into threads" and direct those threads to whichever processing engine is most suitable, he said -- the GPU for parallel-type queries and the CPU for sequential tasks.

Developers "need to be able to code at the C level and not have to be aware of all the intricacies" of the architecture underneath, he said.

Other chips discussed Wednesday that are due in the first half of next year include:

-- a six-core desktop processor for PC enthusiasts known as Leo, with DirectX 11 graphics and AMD's Eyefinity technology, which lets gamers use multiple computer screens for a wider field of vision,

-- a chip for mainstream desktops called Dorado that will have integrated graphics and be offered in dual-, triple- and quad-core versions,

-- a dual-core 45-nanometer chip known as Nile for ultrathin notebooks, which aims to give more than seven hours of battery life with DirectX 11 discrete graphics and support for DirectX 10.1 IGP, and

-- a quad-core Danube chip for mainstream notebooks that aims to give seven hours of battery life and supports DirectX 10 IGP, DirectCompute and OpenCL acceleration.

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