AMD launches Fusion Accelerated Processing Units

AMD Fusion LogoWhen AMD purchased ATI Technologies nearly five year ago, a big part of its rationale for the purchase was the ability to combine processors and graphics chips into a single package.

That vision became a lot closer this week, as the chipmaker kicked off CES 2011 with the introduction of its first generation of Fusion Accelerated Processing Units (APUs), putting together the CPU and discrete graphics processing unit on one piece of silicon. The company announced its “Zacate” APU for mainstream notebooks and general desktop duties, as well as its “Ontario” APU for what it’s calling “HD netbooks” and ultra-small form factors.

Raymond Dumbeck, senior manager of worldwide product marketing at AMD, said the Fusion product line is about high-definition across the board.

“HD is a requirement now, let’s not talk about it anymore,” he said. “HD’s a check box today, we’re going to deliver it online, in video and movies and in life-like gaming to boot with DirectX 11.”

It’s also about battery life, with the E series of processors (Zacate) consuming 18 watts for the processor and GPU combination, while the C series (Ontario) cuts that to nine watts. That means up to ten hours on a mainstream notebook and up tot 12 hours on lower-power systems, without sacrificing high-definition content, Dumbeck said.

As well as better battery life, Dumbeck said the APUs will allow for smaller form factors or for lower costs for standard form factors because of reduced thermals. As a result, Dumbeck expects OEMs and system builders to offer more powerful products at a lower price point.

“We’re doing whiz-bang things in the $499 and below price band,” he said. “We’re doing that because we can, because it’s the fastest-growing part of the market, and because we can do it profitably for ourselves and for our partners.”

The rise of the Fusion processor is a big part of the decision to retire the venerable ATI brand last year, and take advantage of a very unique position AMD occupies in the chipmaking game. But will the company be able to get away from simple clock speeds? It certainly thinks so. As Dumbeck put it: “Today, only two manufacturers make x86 chips in volume, and only two manufacturers make 3D graphics chips, and only AMD does both.”

And with the vast majority of major notebook OEMs – 11 of 12 – shipping systems based on Fusion, it seems to have some support for that.

Still to come is the A series Fusion APU, formerly known by the code-name Llano, which is the most powerful of the three Fusion family members, and the one designed to maximize the performance gains of the CPU/GPU integration rather than balancing performance gains with power consumption decreases. The A series is slated to debut in the first half of 2011.

Dumbeck said the Fusion family represents a few opportunities for the company’s system builder partners, mostly centering around the units’ lower power consumption. Those opportunities include lower-power desktop and thin-and-light laptops.

“The thing for system builders is that it lets them build small form factor machines without having to pay the small form factor tax,” in terms of price delta, he suggested. “These are new opportunities and incremental business for our partners.”

To help build drivers and other software friendly to Fusion, Dumbeck said the company is “investing in the software infrastructure with our friends and ISV partners” through the creation of an SDK dedicated to the processors. It’s also created the Fusion Fund to help developers build solutions around Fusion. It will also host its first Developer Summit later this year, which will center on peer learning.

“We’re riving this infrastructure for a reason – to do bigger, more powerful things at lower power levels,” Dumbeck said.