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AMD Ships First Fusion Chips
Those are the long-promised widgets that mate CPUs and DirectX11-compatible GPUs on a single die

AMD started shipping its very first hard-won Fusion chips to OEMs Tuesday. Those are the long-promised widgets that mate CPUs and DirectX11-compatible GPUs on a single die made possible by the company's crippling $5.4 billion acquisition of ATI Technologies in 2006.

It's not clear which so-called APU (Accelerate Processing Units) chips started shipping. It could have been either or both the single- or dual-core Ontario and the Zacate. Both are based on AMD's 40nm Brazos platform and its Bobcat cores.

The Ontario is a 9W low-power model that's supposed to compete for the heart and soul of the netbook against Intel's Atom chip. Now, of course, AMD is late in the day trying to squeeze into netbooks, particularly since netbooks aren't as chi-chi as they were and the Apple iPad has arrived on the scene.

But AMD watcher Nathan Brookwood claims Ontario's performance could restart the netbook market, making the things more like mid-range notebooks and sensible platforms for Windows and Office with a reasonable five- or six-hour battery life while still at a $300-$400 price point.

Ontario runs too hot for tablets. AMD won't have a tablet entry for a couple of years when it can get Ontario down to 4W or 5W on a 28nm process with the Ontario and Zacate follow-ons, the two- and four-core Krishna and Wichita. Intel's also up against it in the tablet market where ARM is the favorite. Now it's got to worry that Ontario could prove an Atom killer.

The 18W Zacate, on the other hand, could appeal to Apple for its MacBooks or MacBook Airs that currently use Intel's Core 2 Duos with Nvidia's programmable graphics chipset. Apple messes around a lot with graphics acceleration for its own software, Brookwood says. Intel has no programmable graphics so using Zacate could be cheaper and more efficient.

AMD hints that something's going on between it and Apple. At its annual financial analyst day this week where it was showing off its roadmaps, after a long roadmap drought, AMD happened to flash - without explanation - a slide showing a pair of iMac all-in-one machines, a Mac Pro workstation, Apple's trademark logo and Fusion branding. Intel gotta pray that it's flummery, not so much for the volumes but because Apple's a thought leader.

Anyway, the Zacate, which will compete against Intel's Celerons, Pentiums and Core i3s, should produce mainstream notebooks and desktops that sell for $400-$600.

Brookwood says the Brazos family is good for a hundred design-wins from serious players that are supposed to launch their wares at the Consumer Electronics Show in January. Intel will be there too with a low-end version of its newfangled APU-like Sandy Bridge chip spec'd at 30W-35W, bigger and hotter than AMD's widgets with not quite as much graphical oomph but faster evidently. Sandy Bridge is DirectX 10.1-compatible.

JP Morgan Securities checked around and heard that the Brazos chips are great on the graphics end but their "processor functionality is below most AMD and Intel offering." AMD is very light on benchmarks.

Given the Apple boxes in AMD's slide it's probably suggesting that Apple might fancy the upcoming 32nm Llano APU that's supposed to have two or four x86 cores and a DirectX 11-capable Radeon GPU. It's meant for $500-$1,000 mainstream notebooks and desktops and should be here the middle of next year. It's supposed to be capable to 500 gigaFLOPS, Brookwood said. By comparison a six-core Intel Westmere is only good for 100 gigaFLOPS.

AMD also got another little 32nm number called Zambezi for mainstream and high-end desktops that should be out in around next September that has four-eight Bulldozer cores matched with two separate so-called Fusion modules.

On the server side, AMD's promising to have a chip called Terramar in 2012 with 20 cores for the 2P and 4P market and another one called Sepang with 10 for the 1P and 2P market.

The first would replace a 32nm chip called Interlagos that supposed to have eight, 12 or 16 cores and other would refresh a six- or eight-core chip called Valencia. Both the Interlagos and the Valencia are scheduled for the second half of next year.

All the cores are so-called Bulldozer cores, Bulldozer being AMD's expected new microarchitecture. And Bulldozer cores are different from what Intel might call cores.

Interlagos and Terramar will follow on AMD's recently introduced 6000 series and Valencia and Sepang the 4000 series. Neither the 4000 nor the 4000 sold particularly well because they hit the market at the wrong time and being new platforms weren't drop-ins. They needed new sockets, motherboards, I/O et cetera. The new chips should have that problem.

About Maureen O'Gara
Maureen O'Gara the most read technology reporter for the past 20 years, is the Cloud Computing and Virtualization News Desk editor of SYS-CON Media. She is the publisher of famous "Billygrams" and the editor-in-chief of "Client/Server News" for more than a decade. One of the most respected technology reporters in the business, Maureen can be reached by email at maureen(at)sys-con.com or paperboy(at)g2news.com, and by phone at 516 759-7025. Twitter: @MaureenOGara

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