Friday, November 12, 2010

Analyst Day

It's been a pretty busy week in the hardware world. The main event was probably AMD's Analyst Day. For those of you not familiar with it, it's a more-or-less annual event during which AMD talks to financial analysts about what they've been doing, how they've been doing, what they will be doing, and how they will be doing it.

They've discussed many things during this roughly 7-hour long event, but mostly, it was about Fusion and APUs, or Accelerated Processing Units, which is what AMD calls its upcoming CPU/GPU hybrids. Fusion refers to APUs, but also to the software side of things, to the "experience", etc. Yes, it's mostly a marketing term.

First of all, they were pretty proud to announce that as of this week, Ontario/Zacate is shipping. It will be released during CES, in January 2011. This is Ontario/Zacate:

At just 75mm², that's a tiny, tiny chip aimed at netbooks, thin & light notebooks, and small form factor or all-in-one desktops. It packs two out-of-order CPU cores based on the all-new Bobcat architecture, as well as a DX11 GPU with 80 Stream Processing Units, very similar to the one featured on the Radeon HD 5450. It is being manufactured by TSMC on a 40nm bulk process. Given its size, it is very very cheap to make. Here are the specs for Ontario/Zacate, which will henceforth be called Zacario, because I'm getting tired of writing Ontario/Zacate.

Note that at 1.2GHz and 9W, Ontario will only feature one core. You'll have to make do with 1GHz if you want two cores. More details here. I'm certain there will be a lot of different netbook models that cater to all possible needs. Indeed, AMD was quite bullish about Zacario, claiming a lot of design wins (over 100) and very enthusiastic response from OEMs altogether. And I can easily believe that. With two full OoO cores and a very capable GPU, all for just 9W, Ontario is going to make Atom look like a terrible option for anything bigger than a tablet. At higher clocks and 18W, Zacate will be quite appealing for OEMs looking to build very affordable thin and light notebooks, of the 11 to 13 or even 14" ilk. I believe Zacario is poised to become what fancy people call a disruptive innovation. Expect a lot of cool stuff in the mobile market come next year. And since you've behaved, here's a diagram of Bobcat:

But Zacario isn't the only upcoming APU, AMD is also working on Llano, which features 4 cores and a decent DX11 GPU, likely similar to Redwood, which equips the HD 5670. It will be manufactured in 32nm SOI with High-K + Metal Gate by GlobalFoundries, AMD's main foundry partner, and is expect to hit the market in H1'2011 (which is probably PR-speak for June). Here is a composite image of Llano, courtesy of Hans de Vries:

With full power-gating for each core, and a brand new manufacturing process, Llano should offer very good idle power, which is capital for notebooks, its main target. It will also be aimed at desktops and should replace Athlon and Phenom up to X4 in this space. Its CPU cores are based on the current Stars architecture, which powers Phenom, but they are improved in several ways, detailed here. All in all this should be a well-rounded product with very decent CPU performance, good power characteristics, and graphics performance rivaling that of current mid-range cards (you know, the ≈$80 models). It's still early to be able to tell much beyond that, though.

It's not all about APUs, though, AMD is also readying a completely new CPU architecture, called Bulldozer. If by now you still haven't heard about it, read this. If you're too lazy, let's just say that it's a peculiar design that replicates some hardware within cores (now called modules) and shares some other components in order to maximize area- and power-efficiency. Each module can therefore handle two threads with dedicated integer units, a shared front-end, and a flexible, shared FPU… called "Flex FP". But honestly that just sounds way too "marketingy". Here's a basic diagram, with an SMT core next to it for comparison:

There's been a lot of speculation about Bulldozer, and if you want to know more I really urge you to read David Kanter's piece. As for this Analyst Day, AMD did reveal two very interesting things:
  • Bulldozer will be released first on desktops, as Zambezi, in Q2'2011 (probably June)
  • It will then make its way into servers, in Q3. 
AMD also chose to seize this opportunity to reveal bits about their roadmaps, so here they are:

Here you see Zacario and Llano, which we've already discussed. Notice that Llano will also be offered as a dual-core variant, but whether that's a quad-core die with disabled cores or a distinct ASIC remains unknown at this point.
Trinity will replace Llano, and it is pretty much what you would expect: 4 Bulldozer cores and a new GPU, based on Northern Islands, the GPU family that AMD is currently introducing to market, starting with the already released HD 6800 series. It is still a 32nm part.
Krishna, however, is a little more interesting: it's a 28nm, HK+MG part, meaning that instead of lagging a half-node and a metal gate behind its mainstream counterpart as Zacario does, Krishna will actually be a half-node ahead. As a result, it will be offered with up to 4 cores. Yes, that means you will almost certainly see 18W quad-cores with an integrated next-generation DX11 GPU in 2012. In ≤$499 notebooks. Pretty cool, uh?

This one is pretty self-explanatory, and yet slightly misleading: Komodo does not feature integrated graphics, just like Zambezi, but it is meant to pair-up with discrete DX11 graphics. It will be based on Bulldozer, but "improved". How? That's a very good question, AMD didn't say.

Bulldozer was probably designed with servers as a primary target, and this is where it is most likely to shine. In 2012, AMD will add more cores, on top of improvements to the architecture, and probably some other stuff, but that's about as much as they're willing to say for now. Note that Interlagos is a drop-in replacement for the Opteron 6100 series, and the same applies to Valencia and the 4100 series. And just like the 6100 series, Interlagos is actually an MCM: two dies on one package, and therefore one socket.

The most surprising part of this event was probably this process roadmap:

As you can see, AMD intends to transition from full nodes to half-nodes, starting with 28nm. Is that for all products, or just APUs? Or is it just for low-end APUs similar to Zacario? Are those processes still SOI? AMD was reluctant to give more details, and understandably so, but this has left me a bit puzzled. Perhaps they believe this strategy can help them stay closer to Intel as the blue behemoth relentlessly moves forward with a new process generation every 24 months or so.

And of course, Analyst Day wouldn't be Analyst Day without a lot of stuff to make analysts feel all funny and tingly in places I dare not mention, right? So here are a few slides about the money side of things:

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