AMD/ATI : acquisition and Fusion
>> Processors

Written by Damien Triolet
Published on October 25, 2006


ATI's acquisition by AMD has been finalised today. This was the opportunity for AMD to tell us more about new product lines short and middle term evolutions. This was also an opportunity to talk with Phil Hester and Bob Drebin, respectively CTO (Chief Technology Officer) of AMD and ATI, who both share the same open mind of the evolution of their technologies while giving specific directions.

Phil Hester and Bob Drebin, CTOs of AMD and ATI

They both believe now that the MPU, the integration of the GPU to the CPU, will be the next logical evolution. GPUs became very big calculation units and gathering the main calculation units of a computer in the same chip makes sense. Some of the functionalities other than calculation units (support of VGA, DVI, HDMI etc. inputs) will however stay in the chipset and possibly in the Southbridge with the other inputs/outputs. About the possibility to have a Radeon chip on Socket directly included to the Torrenza platform, the 2 CTOs answered that this solution wasn't currently envisaged. It would cause very important developments costs and wouldn't bring signification performances improvements compared to a PCI Express graphic card.

They are however working on the integration of the PCI Express in the CPU to have a more efficient access to external GPUs. If the GPU integration is scheduled, the end of graphic cards isn't. A dedicated chip will always bring higher performances and more possibilities. The end of high end CG isn't scheduled either as some may have feared. AMS also added that the competition with NVIDIA will remain as fierce as it is today even if at different levels (platform etc.), NVIDIA will continue to be an important partner. That will be the case at least in the beginning but at some point AMD will certainly favour sales of its own chipsets and GPUs. NVIDIA will have to find a solution maybe by getting closer to Intel or by creating its own CPU. We heard several rumours about the second possibility but Jen Hsun Huang, CEO of Nvidia, recently declared that it wasn't the main preoccupation of the manufacturer.

A 100 hundred or so people coming from AMD and ATI are currently working on the development of this new architecture gathering the CPU and GPU and named Fusion. This technology will require 2 to 3 years to be developed but also for the engineers to learn to work together and know the technologies of each company. For AMD the main difficulty will be to assimilate the massively parallel of GPUs and for ex-ATI it will be the calculation units' reliability improvement (current GPUs produce a higher amount of smaller errors than CPUs) but also the necessity to be closer to IEEE norms. A new extension to the X86 instruction set will be released to facilitate the use of this new MPU. AMD and ATI hope that Fusion will lead to positive evolutions: higher efficiency and performances and lower costs and power consumptions.

There is, however, an obvious problem when we think about Fusion: the memory bandwidth. As you know, GPUs require a lot of bandwidth and it is an obstacle to their performances once they will be integrated to the chipset. Why would it be different in a CPU? According to AMD, a very efficient memory controller and several adapted caches/buffers would allow much higher performances.

Another question was the massive multicore: For AMD, the race to the megahertz is progressively replaced by the number of cores included to one CPU and that isn't an improvement. The most important isn't to have more cores than the competitor but to have the most adapted solution and the right number of cores. In other words, AMD is planning on having fewer cores than Intel. We will have to keep in mind to take a look at the core performances independently form their numbers. AMD's approach to multicore is a modular conception of a CPU as it will be possible to have a certain amount of this or that block to create a high end CPU or a CPU dedicated to video games, servers etc.

Last but not least, ATI will not disappear. We will continue to speak about ATI Radeon. Chipsets and Imageon and Xilleon chips will however be branded AMD. ATI's website has also been redesigned with AMD's colors.

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