The transition to many-core processing is going be accompanied by a step up in abstraction. As CPU and GPU become the new chip building blocks AMD is trying to take the higher ground with is Fusion System Architecture.
LONDON – At this week's Fusion Developers' Summit AMD Fellow Phil Rogers said that in the future the Fusion System Architecture (FSA) will be agnostic to the types CPU and GPU cores used for its implementation (see AMD makes Fusion CPU, GPU agnostic). Rogers also said that FSA will be open, and that AMD wants other hardware companies to implement the specification.
But Rogers was not specific about what that would mean for AMD processors going forward. And the most obvious thing he did NOT say is whether AMD would include ARM cores inside Fusion chips although that would appear to be an option. Maybe it is a dim and distant possibility or maybe AMD is keeping its powder dry for a forthcoming announcement.
However, one thing that is clear is that AMD has been drinking the same 'ecosystem' Kool-aid that ARM likes to get high on. AMD clearly believes it can head upstream in abstraction with Fusion and define a generic heterogeneous multi-core architecture that it will then make available to all-comers.
There is sense to AMD's bold plan. Being an un-supported builder of Intel-compatible
chips becomes much harder as those chips become many-core, so the company has to do something. AMD also, rather like Intel, needs to break out of the PC ghetto in which it has become confined. And a broader set of applications requires a broader set of processing engines, which AMD will not design from the ground up but license in. This attempt to take the multiprocessing high ground goes hand in hand with providing support for OpenCL and other parallel programming support features.
AMD's plan makes sense in another way. As we go from multi-core to many-core the CPU and GPU processing elements will become the things we design with, akin to the ASIC cells of old. These in turn had replaced logic gates as the building blocks of choice which in turn had replaced pre-characterized transistors as the standardized elements available for use.
The lesson from Moore's Law and history is that CPU and GPU cores will become some of a few standard building blocks within the IC and value will be created in the way they are put together and the efficiency with which they co-operate. As these are programmable building blocks that means software is key. One could argue that the standardization of the blocks has already happened in the CPU domain, which has gone from the tens of architectures of the 1990s to just a couple, the x86 and ARM architectures. Now AMD is working on the standardization of the software approach and the abstraction of multi-core hardware.