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AMD outlines plans for future processors

Cyril Kowaliski
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During its four-hour Financial Analyst Day presentation today, AMD revealed new elements of its processor roadmap spanning the next couple of years, as well as its plans to scale beyond the current multi-core model. Intel talked about processors with “tens to hundreds of cores” at IDF earlier this year, but AMD believes the core race is just a repeat of the megahertz race and that adding more cores isn’t the best way to go about scaling processor performance in the future. Instead, AMD is cooking up what it calls “Accelerated Processing Units”:

Source: AMD.

Accelerated Processing Units, or APUs, will be multi-core chips that include any mix of processor cores and other dedicated processors. Fusion, AMD’s integrated CPU and graphics processor, is AMD’s first step in that direction. However, the company eventually intends add more specialized cores that can handle tasks other than general-purpose computing and graphics. AMD didn’t give any specific examples, but one could easily imagine future Fusion-like chips with cores for physics processing, audio/video encoding, and heck, maybe even AI acceleration.

Whatever it ends up doing, AMD says it will be able to tailor APUs with different combinations of core types to specific markets. Fusion, for example, will be aimed chiefly at the mobile market when it arrives in 2009. Enthusiasts needn’t worry, though: AMD says it doesn’t plan to integrate high-end GPUs and CPUs into massive silicon fireballs, because both production costs and power envelopes for such chips would be too high.

AMD also revealed some of its more immediate plans for the processor market by showing off new desktop and mobile roadmaps:

Source: AMD. The desktop roadmap is more or less self-explanatory, placing the introduction of quad-core desktop CPUs in mid-2007 and the launch of derived dual-core models in the latter part of the year. All new chips will have support for HyperTransport 3.0 and DDR2 memory, and accompanying motherboards will boast PCI Express 2.0 support. AMD apparently doesn’t intend to switch sockets or move to DDR3 memory until the middle of 2008.

On the mobile front, things are a little more interesting. Early next year, AMD will launch a new mobile chip code-named “Hawk” that will boast lower power utilization than current Turion 64 X2 and Mobile Sempron chips. The chip will be paired with platforms that will have support for hybrid hard drives as well as a somewhat novel concept dubbed hybrid graphics.

According to AMD, notebooks with hybrid graphics will include both discrete and integrated graphics processors. When such notebooks are unplugged, their integrated graphics will kick in and disable the discrete GPU. As soon as the notebook is plugged back into a power source, the discrete GPU will be switched on again, apparently without the need to reboot. AMD says this technology will enable notebooks to provide the “best of both worlds” in terms of performance and battery life.

In late 2007, AMD will introduce a mobile chip dubbed Griffin that will support split power planes and HyperTransport 3.0, meaning it’ll almost certainly be based on AMD’s quad-core architecture. Griffin will be accompanied by platforms supporting PCI Express 2.0, DirectX 10-class integrated graphics, DisplayPort video output, and a Universal Video Decoder—essentially a dedicated video processor.

That about covers what AMD unveiled about its upcoming processors today. The presentation did include a fair amount of discussion about the company’s financial performance and consumer electronics plans, though; we’ll fill you in on those topics a little later.