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AMD merges x86, graphics cores in new A series

Posted: 16 Jun 2011 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:graphics core? heterogeneous computing? processors?

Advanced Micro Devices has unveiled its A series processors which integrate x86 and graphics cores for mainstream desktop PCs and notebooks. By releasing the new chip family, the company believes it has virtually overtaken archrival Intel Corp. in the race for longer battery life and better graphic performance.

The chips debuted at AMD's Fusion Developer Summit on June 14 where the company detailed techniques for programming the multicore CPUs. ARM and Microsoft also gave talks at the event, supporting AMD's approach to heterogeneous computing using OpenCL and Microsoft's DirectCompute APIs.

AMD's A series is a family of three 32nm chips that use two to four of the so-called Stars x86 cores from its existing 45nm products. They also pack an updated graphics core with three to five SIMD units supporting Microsoft DirectX 11 APIs. The chips run about 500MHz faster than AMD's previous generation, hitting data rates up to about 2.6GHz.

The A series is a higher-performance alternative to the company's E, C and G series that also include graphics but use AMD's lower-power Bobcat core. A higher-end family, the first using its new Bulldozer x86 cores, will debut in September.

The first A series chips target notebooks with desktop versions following soon. The chips will provide more than an hour additional battery life than Intel's current Sandy Bridge notebook processors when run at a 60 percent or greater duty cycle, said John Taylor, director of client product and software marketing at AMD.

In addition the A series will offer 50 to 300 percent more graphics performance than an Intel Core i7, depending on the benchmark, Taylor said. Software developers testified at the conference to performance and power benefits using merged x86 and graphics cores, he added.

Intel's Sandy Bridge chips continue to have an advantage in transcoding media formats thanks to their dedicated hardware encoding features. "We think that is a corner case," said Taylor, noting AMD is unique in providing post processing for lower power consumption when playing back streaming high-definition video.

AMD pairs the A series with its Hudson I/O chip that supports up to four USB 3.0 links, as well as 6Gbps serial ATA and PCI Express Gen 2.

The A series "looks like a winner from a competitive standpoint," said Nathan Brookwood, principal of market watcher Insight64. "There had been some issues regarding its manufacturability, but those seem largely resolved at this point." he said.

The A series uses the same class of 32nm high-K, metal gate process as Intel's current Sandy Bridge chips. Intel has a slight edge in x86 core performance, but AMD has a lead in integrated graphics performance, battery life and integration of USB 3.0, Brookwood added.

"To compete with these A series platforms, Intel-based systems need to include a discrete GPU (incremental cost ~$25) and a discrete USB 3.0 controller (incremental cost ~$5)," he said.

Going forward, AMD plans to deliver two families of merged x86 and graphics processors each year, one using Bobcat and another using Bulldozer x86 cores. Over time, the Bobcat-based chips will span a range from 2W to 18W parts.

Intel said earlier this year that with its 22nm Haswell processor in 2013, it is moving its power consumption target for notebook chips from about 35W to about 15W.

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