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AMD Fusion discussion with Bob Grim

We're surrounded by integrated graphics.   From Blackberries to iPhones, from netbooks to iPads. KitGuru spends more hours in a day using integrated graphics than discrete cards. As users, we represent the elite. The top 5% of users – with serious knowledge, skills and access to as much technology as we can eat. The integrated graphics market is huge. Armed with Fusion, can AMD do serious long-term damage to Intel's market share? KitGuru investigates.

AMD gave the first, full and very public APU demonstration at Computex back in June, which showed it had a lead in terms of getting the new technology to market, albeit a slim one. Now Intel's started to show off its own Fusion-class processors, at IDF in San Francisco last week, we're all starting to wonder when this new APU technology will hit and how much impact it will make.

We had loads of questions.

Fortunately AMD Marketing Director, Bob Grim, was on hand to provide the answers.

Welcome to another Kitguru exclusive!

Background: A history of Fusion
We start off with a little background. When AMD bought ATI, it almost straight away started to speak about Fusion. Not just the bringing together of 2 companies, but also the next generation of products that would bring the main processor and graphics core together. Over time, things can change. We asked Bob how AMD sees Fusion right now, in the second half of 2010.

“AMD Fusion APUs represent a new type of  x86 processor design and software development”, said Bob. “This will enable breakthroughs in visual computing, performance-per-watt and device form factor. AMD Fusion APUs are engineered to deliver powerful CPU and GPU compute capabilities in a single-die processor for today’s HD video, 3D and data-intensive workloads”.

Sounds like a 1-stop-shop to us, but how long will we have to wait  until this kind of technology is in production.

Availability: When can we buy it in stores?
With Sandy Bridge expected in stores around February 2011 and just 3 full months left in 2010, Bob said “We’re gearing up for production of our Brazos-platform AMD Fusion processors, and we expect designs in the marketplace early in 2011”.

To KitGuru, it sounds as though everyone's ‘Fusion delivery roadmap' is running pretty much in parallel.

AMD's Bob Grim

Competition: How will the battle play out?

While Sandy Bridge is going to displace all of the existing Core i3, i5 and i7 product lines, Bob wasn't prepared to let us know how much of AMD's 2011 roadmap would have Fusion-power.

Feeling that Bob was happier to discuss AMD's products by comparison to Intel's, we decided to probe a little deeper.

From our discussions with Intel, a key focus seems to be offering consumers a ‘hugely powerful quad core processor, under 65w, complete with powerful graphics’. We asked Bob if he expected AMD Fusion to be able to compete with this kind of i5 processor?

“AMD believes that users don’t buy cores or clock speeds; they buy a great user experience.  With gaming, video, web browsing and rich multimedia becoming more central to the user experience, we expect AMD’s world class graphics technology to be a very compelling proposition for end users”.

With a little smile, Bob added “We’re already seeing our mainstream ‘Zacate’ processor soundly beating Core i5 in a number of real world usage scenarios”.

Confident stuff. We saw the start of this simpler messaging when the Radeon HD 5000 series launched a year ago. It fits more into the way consumers think of things that are slow, medium or fast. Basic, flexible or fully featured.

Desktop AMD Fusion APU - as revealed exclusively by KitGuru

Graphics: Who will render the most successful financials?
Given ATI's heritage, we moved onto graphics performance. Given that Intel is lining up the GT1 graphics engine for its low end processors – probably up to the i5, how well does AMD expect to compete at the entry level, in terms of graphics performance?

“We’ve always been very competitive against Intel on graphics performance, even at the entry level, and we’ll be the only vendor with state-of-the-art discrete-level DirectX11 support for entry-level PCs”. OK. What about further up the product stack?

We’re hearing that Intel has AMD’s discrete notebook market share firmly in its sites with the more powerful GT2 – are you concerned that as you win low end notebook SKUs, you will take a (market share) hit on the higher value segment?

“We are offering a wide variety of platform solutions including 3 Fusion APUs in the notebook space to address multiple segments, including our processors codenamed “Ontario”,”Zacate” and “Llano”.  We expect AMD's 2011 notebook platforms to be very competitive against Intel in each of these markets”.

DirectX 11: Will Intel and AMD both be getting in the game?
Intel’s roadmap shows no sign of DX11 – even after the die shrink in 18 months’ time. Will having DX11 support at the low end be a real benefit ? Will AMD fund sensible DevRel programmes to maximise your advantage in this area?

That's when Bob touched on something new. “Through the AMD Fusion Fund, we’re working with the ISV ecosystem to infuse parallelism into a wide range of consumer applications with the goal of enabling a massively improved end user experience including next generation user interfaces”.

Complex answer, but it sounds a lot like AMD is ploughing fresh money into software developers who want to help create new applications. Good thing, yes?

Bob explained in more detail, “Some of these applications will be based on industry standard APIs including DirectCompute11.  In addition, we expect dozens of DirectX11 games to be available by the time AMD Fusion platforms come to market in 2011. We’ve been actively engaged with developers to infuse DirectX11 features into games since early 2009”.

Will AMD's spicy Fusion be to Intel's taste?

Graphics RAM: Thanks for the memories
With graphic cards, the amount and speed of memory has an impact on performance. Recently, we've been seeing stories about Intel and DDR4, however when we psuhed our sources, they said that it was unlikely for Intel to move to a new system memory memory configuration until a future platform comes to market. That sounds like 18 months. Minimum. Unfortunately, at this stage, Bob wasn't going to be drawn on memory support options within AMD Fusion.

He did acknowledge that there is an effect, but suggested we check back closer to December for more info.

Which we will.

So there you have it, in a nutshell and straight from Bob's mouth. AMD will be gunning for serious market share with Fusion – right from launch. There are AMD Fusion-specific software development programmes already in place and full support for DX11.

As AMD's Fusion lines up against Intel's Sandy Bridge to compete for the largest slices of the market, one thing strikes you very clearly. There are only 2 players in this market. Intel already has a massive, dominating market share and AMD will try to wrestle some of those sales across to its own coffers. But there is no nVidia offering anywhere in these new markets. When you think about Fiat and Ferrari or Skoda/Seat/VW and Lamborghini, you can see that it's always the very mundane, normal, average, everyday products that sell in the mass market, which provide the finance to develop the super cars. Notoriously camera shy, we will try to discuss these matters with nVidia over the next 2 weeks. We will let you know what they say.

KitGuru says: We can't wait to get our hands on the first production models to see just how far forward this technology can push the market. It's strange the way things always come around. At first, graphics were always processed in the CPU – where else could you do it? And now, with the whole PC world evolving into the new century, graphics power is moving back into the main processor – albeit in a brand new and far more sophisticated way. Roll on December!

Love what you've heard (Fusion) or want to differ (Fission)? No matter, let us know either way – below or in the KitGuru forum.

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