Thursday, September 06, 2007

AMD's Future GPU+CPU Plans?

AMD has released an official statement today, confirming the prior rumours that they are focusing on Linux. They have announced that they are releasing high performance ATI drivers for Linux. In initial tests, these drivers gave ATI graphics a peformance edge over their NVidia counterparts. Then, they have also announced that they will be releasing the specs for their high-end graphics parts. This will be useful for open source driver developers who would benefit from access to direct information instead of guesswork and reverse engineering.

Some people feel that this is a result of AMD finally doing something right and responding to customer demand. Linux users have been screaming for ATI to either release it's graphics specs or provide quality drivers. They had failed to do both, and NVidia ended up being the preferred graphics chip for Linux users.

Others felt that this is a result of direct pressure from PC vendors, namely Dell. Dell had recently hinted to ATI that they would not consider putting ATI parts into Dell machines unless there were better drivers. Nobody doubts that ATI parts are better than NVidia, including Apple, which has decided to use ATI chips in it's new Macs.

However, I think that the main reason that AMD is releasing graphic specs is because of it's upcoming GPU+CPU plans. We know that the next generation of X86 processors will feature close integration between the CPU and the graphics chip. After AMD bought ATI, everyone was excited when they announced that they were working on chip-level integration between the processor and graphics dubbed AMD Fusion.

There are many applications for a CPU with extra graphics processing capabilities. These would be very useful for scientific computation, not to mention multimedia. So, I believe that AMD is hedging it's bets to encourage better OS support for it's future processors and build up a software eco-system around it. Then, when it releases it's hybrid processors, the software would be easily adapted to it.

For the moment, there isn't quite anyone else who is well placed enough to execute the GPU+CPU plan. Intel has fast processors, but slow graphics. NVidia has high performance graphics, but no processors. The only thing that is close, is the Cell processor from IBM/Sony/Toshiba, but their software support isn't as broad. So, I personally think that this is their primary reason for releasing the specs for their graphics chips.

It'll now be interesting to see how NVidia responds. Maybe it's time for NVidia to buy up VIA or Transmeta, which are both "grey" x86 processor makers.

PS: If only AMD would buy up Broadcom and throw open their specs too!

UPDATE@1930: It seems that AMD is doing more than just releasing the specs for it's cards. It's even opening up the source code for it's drivers. Now, that's an amazing feat, considering that they've only just come up with their brand new driver architecture.

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