Great Neck, N.Y. -- Advanced Micro Devices Inc. took a fresh turn last week in its race to the multicore future with X86 archrival Intel Corp. by announcing plans to deliver "a new class of X86 processors" with on-board graphics starting in late 2008. Intel, although it has announced no formal timetable, is also looking into integrating graphics with its CPUs. But neither company has provided details about how it will clear the many hurdles to delivering the merged chips.
AMD announced its Fusion program on the same day it formally completed its $5.4 billion acquisition of graphics and chip set designer ATI Technologies Inc. Under the program, the merged company will roll out a variety of the combined processors for laptops, desktops, workstations, servers and consumer electronics devices geared for emerging markets.
"We will establish a new baseline in shared-memory graphics performance. Over time, this could be used in all our parts," said Marty Seyer, general manager of AMD's desktop group.
The Fusion program involves a collection of design initiatives to pave the way for merged chips that AMD said will deliver a "step function in performance per watt." The chips could use several combinations of one or more CPUs and graphics processors on the same die or in multichip modules, Seyer said.
"In this increasingly diverse X86 computing environment, simply adding more CPU cores to a baseline architecture will not be enough," Phil Hester, AMD's chief technology officer, said in a prepared statement. "Leveraging both CPU and GPU [graphics-processing unit] compute capabilities will be essential in meeting the requirements of computing in 2008 and beyond."
Details of the Fusion program will not emerge until an AMD analyst conference in December, giving the AMD and former ATI engineers six weeks to hammer out the specifics of their merged road map.
While AMD is ahead of Intel in formally announcing plans to combine graphics and X86 cores, it remains to be seen which company will take the lead in delivering such products. Intel shares the same vision for merging graphics with CPUs, though it will provide no timetable for delivering on it, said David Tuhy, a general manager in Intel's desktop products group.
"Intel is going down the same path, and [it and AMD] are racing to see who gets there first," said a chip company senior executive who asked not to be identified.
An early challenge both companies face is targeting diverse markets accurately. About 65 percent of all graphics processors sold today are provided as cores, typically integrated with a so-called north bridge that also contains a memory controller, according to market watcher Mercury Research (Scottsdale, Ariz.). "There's a fit for this sort of product in power-sensitive notebooks and low-end desktops," said Dean McCarron, principal of Mercury Research. "Outside of those spaces, a lot of people--including myself--are curious to see how this will work out."