AMD has never managed to outdo Intel in CPU sales volumes. However, it doesn’t at all mean that this company plays a secondary role in the x86 processors world. There are multiple examples when AMD’s innovations in the development of their own x86-processor microarchitecture would eventually turn into global marketing trends also accepted by Intel at some point. It was actually AMD who developed 64-bit extensions to the x86 architecture and was the first to implement them in actual products. And now they have become an inalienable part of the processor microarchitecture. AMD was the one who pointed out the advantages of integrating the processor and the chipset North Bridge and was the first to move the memory controller into the CPU. If we go back digging into the history of processors, we will be able to come up with a bunch of episodes like that. All of them indicate that the “second player” in the processor market is not an outsider at all. On the contrary, they possess enormous engineering and technological potential.
A few years back this potential was enforced by acquisition of ATI Technologies, which gave AMD access to top-of-the-line graphics technologies. These technologies helped AMD to come up with even greater innovations known as Fusion. The idea behind Fusion implies combining traditional computational cores with the graphics core that contains a lot of stream processors capable of processing parallel calculations efficiently.
A processor with an integrated graphics core inside will hardly surprise anyone today. Intel has already been shipping products like that for a while. But AMD offers a different approach to symbiosis of computational and graphics cores. According to company engineers, the graphics core should be responsible not only for displaying the image on the monitor. It should also be involved into common processor functioning. The architecture of contemporary graphics cores allows them to process large data arrays in parallel. Therefore, the computational reserves of the graphics core can be effectively involved in a number of tasks, such as image and video processing, cryptographic algorithms and some scientific problems. Of course, it will require the existing software to be properly optimized, but the resulting performance improvement will be a clear indication that Fusion concept makes perfect sense.
We are already familiar with the very first products engineered within the Fusion concept. Processors codenamed Ontario and Zacate, which belong to the E- and C-series, have proven very effective in inexpensive desktop and mobile systems based on Brazos platform. However, they are primarily targeted for compact and energy-efficient systems, that is why they have relatively low performance and pretty limited application field. It is clear that AMD will need more mainstream platforms and processors offering sufficient level of performance for this market segment in order to fully integrate Fusion concept into the world. Therefore, after Brazos AMD launches two new Fusion platforms: the mobile Sabine and desktop Lynx. Both these platforms are based on the new A-series processors codenamed Llano, which will be the ones defending Fusion’s honor in the mainstream processor market segment.
Today we are going to talk about first desktop Llano processors and will try to estimate how badly we need the revolutionary hybrid architecture so aggressively promoted by AMD.