AMD Shares Secrets: How APUs for Next-Generation Game Consoles Were Developed

Microsoft, Nintendo and Sony Were Unaware That AMD Develops Chips For All New Consoles - AMD

by Anton Shilov
06/13/2013 | 11:46 PM

AMD has shared some information about the development of semi-custom embedded accelerated processing units in general as well as about creation of APUs for new-generation game consoles in particular. Apparently, AMD started talks about the chips for next-gen consoles on the architectural level four years ago, when no parts of the current chips even existed. Surprisingly, none of the platform holders knew that AMD also developed chips for competing devices.


“With semi-custom [APUs] we talk to our customers at an architectural level about the solutions, not actual products. The engagement that we have with game console customers started many years ago at ‘what if stage’. […] Then architects from our side and architects from their side sat down to decide what they wanted [in general], what did they want in silicon and what did they want in software. Then we developed a solution that is specific to our customer,” said Saeid Moshkelani, vice president of AMD and the general manager of the company’s semi-custom business unit, in an interview with Engadget web-site.

Since semi-custom APU agreements are very confidential, neither of the platform holders – Microsoft, Nintendo and Sony – was aware that AMD is developing chips for competing game consoles. While Nintendo preferred to design a very cost-efficient chip for the Wii U, both Sony and Microsoft wanted higher performance and both chose the same technology: semi-custom AMD Fusion system-on-chips with eight Jaguar general-purpose x86 cores, AMD Radeon HD GCN architecture-derived graphics processors and so on. Nonetheless, it does not mean that the chips inside Microsoft Xbox One and Sony PlayStation 4 are not exclusive. Both APU feature unique technologies developed particularly for them.

“There was some intellectual property that came in from the customer side to put inside the chip. There was some stuff that they would specify to develop exclusively for that product and we developed that. There was, of course, IP that is used by other products from AMD, e.g. microprocessor Jaguar cores, the graphics engines, display and high-speed I/Os that are common for our products. But there were [also] specific blocks that either came from that customer or were exclusively build for that customer,” explained Mr. Moshkelani.

Since ATI and then AMD has collaborated with both Microsoft and Nintendo for many years now, they discussed technology opportunities for next-gen on relatively regular basis. When it comes to collaboration with Sony and development of the APU for the PlayStation 4, then it took around four years to define, design and build the product.

“With Sony, the relationship started about four years ago from “what if” analysis and business models to specification about two years ago to implementation and actual launch of the product,” said the vice president of AMD.

Neither Microsoft, nor Sony, detailed the hardware inside the chips that power Xbox One and PS4 completely, but only generally mentioned eight x86 general-purpose processing units as well as custom AMD Radeon HD graphics core. According to Mr. Moshkelani, the APUs are rather extremely feature-packed and contain “just about every kind of media processing that you could imagine in there” (for CDs, DVDs, Blu-ray, Blu-ray 3D, incoming Blu-ray 4K format with HEVC codec, streaming music/video and various other purposes), special blocks for video streaming or accessing content on the Internet (security capabilities required by content owners), video upscaling hardware (presumably, to upscale full-HD/1080p videos to 4K screens) and other blocks.

“It took less than two years, from the time that we started [designing chips] to see them [consoles] on the floor at E3. [...] From the design and implementation perspectives, they [APUs for next-gen consoles] are very-very challenging, but at the same time there are only a few companies in the world that can actually design, implement and execute projects this complex,” concluded Saeid Moshkelani, vice president of AMD and the general manager of the company’s semi-custom business unit