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Summary:

With its new accelerated processor unit AMD is following its rival Intel down a path to keep x86 chips both powerful and power efficient as computing goes mobile for consumers and requires millions of processor cores running a “cloud” on the server side.

Intel's Knights Ferry development card

AMD at the Computex show in Taiwan today showed off a new processor dubbed the Fusion APU (accelerated processing unit), which combines traditional CPUs with graphics processors. While the critics were underwhelmed by the demo, AMD is following its rival Intel down a path to keep x86 processors both powerful and power-efficient as computing goes mobile on the consumer side and requires millions of processor cores running in a “cloud” on the server side. The design tweaks both chipmakers are implementing are key to ensuring that their core x86 business doesn’t become sidelined by new competition from Nvidia and ARM.

On the server side, Intel and AMD are attempting to make their chips more efficient while boosting the ability to do highly parallel processing, used for transactions, video encoding and crunching certain types of data. It’s an area where Nvidia has made huge inroads with its GPUs and as such, something Intel and AMD, which has its own GPU business, couldn’t ignore. Intel has tried to create a GPU-like chip using an x86 architecture dubbed Larabee, but pulled the plug on it.

Intel said earlier this week that it would deliver new products based on its Many Integrated Core (MIC) architecture it helped develop for Larabee that will scale to more than 50 cores on a single chip. The product, while aimed at the

The Aubrey Isle chip inside the Knight's Ferry development platform

The first product, codenamed “Knights Corner,” will be made using Intel’s 22-nanometer manufacturing process and will scale to more than 50 Intel processing cores (pictured) on a single chip. AMD plans to launch an APU for the server side as well. I’ll ask Rick Bergman, senior VP and general manager of AMD’s Products Group, about it later this month at our Structure 2010 conference in San Francisco.

For servers that don’t benefit from parallel processing, such as those running websites, David Perlmutter, executive VP and co-general manager of Intel’s architecture group, showed off low-power blade servers running Atom chips at Computex. We’ve outlined how a host of companies ranging from Marvell to SmoothStone are experimenting with the ARM architecture used in cell phones to build lower-power servers, which poses a threat to Intel and AMD’s core business.

On the consumer side, Intel is also facing competition from ARM in smaller form factors such as netbooks, tablets and smartphones, a market the AMD has pretty much ceded while it focuses on laptops and PCs. In this market, AMD hopes its APU will wow users with awesome multimedia performance at lower power consumptions, while still using software designed for CPUs. Intel is relying on Atom on the low end and its fancy Corei5 and Corei7 processors for performance-hungry mobile and desktop machines.

As the computing pie has gotten bigger — with more variety in client devices and millions of servers delivering web-based services — Intel and AMD, which have long owned the largest slices, are now realizing that others are hungry, too. To keep their chips and the x86 architecture in demand, they’re trying to take on the characteristics of their rivals in the mobile and GPU sectors. We’ll see if they can adapt.

  1. Just kill the x86 and be done with it. Its a rediculously old platform now, with poor instruction sets. This is Intels and AMDs last chance to squeeze out the last bit of change out of out pockets before they stump up the cash to develop new platforms.

    These power sucking commodity desktop and server CPUs contribute vasts amounts of CO2, something which can be alleviated by putting 20 year old technology to bed, but they wont in order to keep the shareholders happy. Nice one capitalism, you just kicked the comsumer and the enviroment in the nuts, once again.

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  2. http://download.intel.com/pressroom/kits/events/idfspr_2010/pdfs/BeijingIDF2010_Perlmutter_English.pdf What an incredibly ignorant post. Take a look at page 18 to see the so called death of x86. Already taken over Macs, servers, supercomputers, phones, tablets, TVs are next, and that’s about everybody.

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    1. Jazzy Fizzle Thursday, June 3, 2010

      Popularity and market cap does not constitute that a said product is superior, it could be down to marketing, or in Intel and AMDs case, monopolising the market.

      Linking do a Intel produced PDF, designed to sucker you in is not justifiable proof that Intel is doing wonders in the energy/performance arena. They are comparing their own crap with even more newly produced crap.

      I encourage uses of other platforms in order to produce a competitive market from which everyone would benefit, more performance for less enegery use and hear disapation.

      Part of this problem falls to software developers. Microsoft is the big one, the other is Apple. The two largest developers of operating systems, only make desktop operating systems that only support the x86 architecture.

      I see the likes of Intel and AMD failing if they do not change the ratio of performance/watt quickly, as there is plenty of competition coming within the next 24 to 30 months.

      This applies to Microsoft and Apple too, support of other architectures is essential, if not the alternative OS with soon be eating into the vast chunks of market cap they currently have.

      I will happily pay a premium for a processor that has improved power/watt performance with intelligent power management, not just slowing down the clock, I am talking switching off cores completly, as we sit in a multi core enviroment today.

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  3. [...] Stacey wrote earlier this month, “AMD hopes its APU will wow users with awesome multimedia performance at lower power [...]

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  4. [...] presentation was about AMD’s upcoming Fusion platform. Fusion is AMD’s new Accelerated Processing Unit (APU), which combines both CPU and GPU capabilities [...]

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