Saturday, July 02


Cool Fusion

I'll say this up front: I think AMD's new Fusion range of processors are some of the most important integrated circuits since Signetics' 555.

Why?  Let's start at the low end and work our way up.

The C-50 model provides two dual-issue, out-of-order x64 cores (codenamed Bobcat) at 1GHz, an 80-shader GPU at 280MHz (44 gigaflops), 1MB of cache, and a 1066MHz 64-bit memory bus.  That's enough hardware to make my SGI O2 look sad, and it has a total power consumption of 9 watts in a 40nm process.  The C-60 refresh due this quarter enables a turbo mode that can increase CPU speed by 33% and GPU speed by 44% when that fits within the power and thermal envelope, still with the same 9 watts draw.

The E-350 has the same architecture, but bumps the CPU clock to 1.6GHz and the GPU to 500MHz (80 gigaflops).  The power consumption goes up to 18 watts, but that's still pretty modest, less than a single-core 500MHz AMD K6-2, which lacked most of the features of these new chips and was obviously much, much slower.  (But a solid little workhorse in its day.)  An E-450 version is due out this quarter with a modest CPU speed bump and a 20% GPU and 25% memory speed increase.

They're small and cheap to produce, too - 75mm2 on a 40nm process, which is in itself not leading-edge.

The second half of AMD's Fusion range for 2011 is the Llano family, the A-series.  Where the C and E-series chips target netbooks, ultralight notebooks and embedded designs, the A-series are aimed at full-feature laptops and low-to-mid-range desktops.

These don't have a new CPU core; they're based on the K10.5 core, a derivative of the long-lived K7 Athlon.  But they deliver the goods nonetheless.

The A8-3500M is a notebook chip: 4 cores running at 1.5GHz standard, and up to 2.5GHz in turbo mode: If you are only using one of the cores right now, it will instantly shut off the other three to save power and speed up the one that is actually in use.  4MB of cache, a GPU with 400 shaders at 444MHz (355 gigaflops) and a 128-bit 1333MHz memory bus.  Maximum power consumption is 35 watts.

The A8-3800 is its desktop counterpart.  The 4 cores run at 2.4GHz and up to 2.7GHz in turbo mode; the 400 shaders at a zippy 600MHz (480 gigaflops), the memory bus at up to 1866MHz.  Total power draw is 65 watts.

That is, it's as fast as my curent desktop CPU, uses 30% less power, and throws in half the performance of my 110 watt graphics card for free.*

Or to look at it another way, AMD's new budget desktop solution offers twice the graphics performance of an Xbox 360 or Playstation 3, while costing no more and using less power than their existing CPUs alone.

Okay, so technically all very nice.  Now, why do I think they're so important?

Well, consider the Amiga.  Brilliant piece of work, but the fastest production model ever made was a 25MHz 68040.  The slowest of the Fusion chips can emulate an entire Amiga without breaking a sweat.  Want an Amiga?  C-50, Linux, emulator.  Job done.

Or the Be Box.  Neat concept, neat OS, ran out of money and died, but not before BeOS was ported to x86.  Want a Be Box?  C-50.

Want a game machine that can knock over any of the current-generation consoles?  A8-3500M or A8-3800.  No chip design, no integration hassles, your job is done.

Want a solid little desktop for Windows or Linux?  A8-3800, 16GB of cheap RAM, and you're set.  Okay, you won't want to play Civ 5 on a 30 inch monitor with that, but at 1920x1080 it should actually work pretty well.

Intel's Sandy Bridge chips (their current low-end desktop CPUs) have better single-threaded CPU performance, but suffer from truly second-rate GPUs.  With AMD's Fusion chips you don't have to compromise on graphics: Their new embedded GPUs are genuinely good.

The performance that any of these chips can deliver would make high-end workstation designers of a decade ago turn green, and they're just dirt cheap.  We live in a world of riches unimagined.

* Radeon 4850.  Still a solid card.

Posted by: Pixy Misa at 03:59 AM | Comments (1) | Add Comment | Trackbacks (Suck)
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1 You know, after reading about your Radeon 4850 I went out and found one myself.  (I think it was spring of 2009?)  At the time I was running the factory original video card in my desktop, and since I'd recently gotten into WoW I wanted something better, and that card sounded good--especially after I looked up prices.

In WoW I usually get 60 FPS with that card, running my monitor's native resolution of 1680x1050.  (It slows down a bit when there are a lot of other players around.)  It's to the point that the "windows experience rating" is limited by my processor speed rather than the video card.

This system is now four years old, and I'm starting to think about replacing it; but I'm wondering if I won't just end up taking the video card out of this one and sticking it into the new box, "if-and-when".

Posted by: atomic_fungus at Sunday, July 03 2011 07:09 AM (61V7e)

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