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Bobcat aims for advanced performance at under 1 watt of power consumption per core.  (Source: AMD via Anandtech)

Bulldozer packs a major redesign, with two integer cores sharing an FPU. AMD says the approach optimizes performance per die size.  (Source: AMD via Anandtech)

The Llano packs a K10-derived core (pictured here) paired with on-die DDR3 and a 5000-series GPU.  (Source: AMD)
Can Bulldozer, Bobcat, and Llano allow AMD to dethrone CPU kingpin Intel?

AMD has plenty to cheer about of late.  Almost out of the red in its latest fiscal report, the company has surged ahead to become the top seller of discrete GPUs (as of July).  The company also is sitting on a pile of cash -- $1.25B USD -- from a settlement with Intel over Intel's alleged attempts to pay cash payouts to OEMs to not use AMD CPUs (and several other alleged anticompetitive actions).  With the U.S. Federal Trade Commission promising to keep a watchful eye on Intel, the ball is now in AMD's court to deliver a competitive CPU product.

Today at the Hot Chips conference held at Stanford University, the company discussed some new details on its trio of upcoming architectures (Bobcat, Llano, Bulldozer) that AMD hopes will revitalize its CPU unit and offer a turnaround akin to what it pulled off in the GPU sector.

First up is Bobcat.  Discussed as far back as Computex 2007, this architecture covers lightweight 1-10 watt TDP processors for mobile computers such as netbooks.  In that respect it's AMD's first true challenger to Intel's wildly successful Atom. 

AMD has had CPUs billed as netbook processors, but they were too power hungry to be true competitors.  For example, last year's single core AMD Athlon 64 L110 CPU, which debuted in Acer subsidiary Gateway's LT3103u netbook, clocked in at 1.2 GHz and consumed 13 watts of power.  Compare that to Intel's Atom N270, which launched nearly a year earlier and offered 1.6 GHz speed and a tiny 2.5 W power envelope.

To put things in context AMD is targeting under 1 watt per core with Bobcat, a dramatic improvement over the L110 and other currently-offered low-power processors from AMD.

While both Atom and Bobcat are similar in number of pipe stages for the CPU (16 stages for the former, 15 for the latter), the Bobcat is an out-of-order CPU which should give it a performance edge over Intel's otherwise similar design.  The design features 64 KB of L1 cache, and 512 KB of L2 cache.

Bobcat notably will likely never be sold as a stand-alone CPU (or at least AMD has announced no plans to do so).  It will first pop up early next year as an AMD's first Fusion CPU dubbed OntarioOntario will feature 2 Bobcat cores paired with an AMD GPU.  The combined system-on-a-chip (SoC) will be produced at the 40 nm node at TSMC's chip fabs.

AMD even has a catchy name for the package -- it's not a CPU, it's an APU (Accelerated Processor Unit).

Turning to Bulldozer, the new CPUs target the performance desktop and notebook sector and offer a significant redesign, shifting the architecture in an interesting direction.

Following Intel's Nehalem (i7), Bulldozer is a more modular design.  AMD is opting for a bit different design on the modular level, though.  It's opting for a two-integer core design capable of servicing two threads, with a common floating point unit (FPU) between the cores.  While obvious lacking the performance of 2 full cores with a FPU each, the dual-core module design is only 12-percent larger than a single core design at the node size.  And AMD promises the performance boost on average will be significantly more than 12-percent, so this seems a smart tradeoff.

Other changes include a deeper pipeline and more aggressive prefetching.  Idle cores can be fully turned off for power savings.

Bulldozer CPUs will primarily retail in the desktop sector in 1 to 4 module packages (for a total of 2 to 8 threads/integer cores) on the AM3 socket.  A 16-core G34 socket variant dubbed Interlagos and a C32 socket 8-core model dubbed Valencia will launch for servers.  The CPUs will be produced on a 32 nm process, by Global Foundries.  Intel was the first to hit this node with its Nehalem die-shrink Clarkdale, which launched in January of this year.

Each integer core has a tiny 16 KB cache.  That's disappointingly, low, but AMD says the performance impact will be masked by plentiful L2 cache.

Bulldozer should arrive first in Q2/Q3 2011 in server packages (though no precise 2011 date has been specified yet) and later in the year for desktop packages.  This places it roughly two to three quarters behind Intel's first redesigned 32 nm architecture, Sandy Bridge which is slated for a Q4 2010 launch.  Believe it or not, that means AMD is catching up -- if it can meet its schedule that is.

Last but not least is Llano.  Unlike the redesigned Bulldozer and Bobcat, Llano is a system on a chip featuring a refined K10-based core design -- basically a tweaked Phenom II.  AMD's slides have shown that it will use a new socket called "AM3r2".  The package will pack four of those K10-based cores, a 5000-series-derived GPU, and DD3 memory.

Llano's release date was bumped from Q4 2010 to Jan. 2011, based on yield issues (and "reaction to Ontario’s market opportunities", according to AMD PR-speak).

If AMD can push ahead and keep its launch dates on target it looks to be quite competitive with Intel CPU-wise on a number of fronts in 2011 -- netbooks/tablets (Bobcat), mid-range laptops (Llano), and high-end notebooks/desktops (Bulldozer).  Of course the most telling details will be the actual benchmarks of the chips versus Intel's competitive designs.  AMD currently has these CPUs in its lab and is doing internal testing -- but don't expect third-party benchmarks until close to launch-time.

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RE: No talk of speed
By Da W on 8/24/2010 2:07:56 PM , Rating: 1
At least AMD is showing a lot more than Intel is with Sandy Bridge.

From what i've read, Bobcat will be a blockbuster, outperforming atom and leading way to Windows 7 tablets to compete with the iPad. Even apple will use it in their apple-tv, and possibly in other things later on. And people (the masses, not the geeks who read and argue on this website) are moving away from the desktop into smaller forms factors, i think Bobcat will make or break AMD.

As for bulldozer, it should at least perform like a Core i7,if not slightly better. But Core i7 will be history, Intel will have their Sandy bridge. Who knows what it will be worth. But even then, AMD will have a decent GPU on chip. Consider that they are running on the same old IGP for 3 years and that it is good enought, that Intel NEW on chip graphics barely beat AMD 3-years old on motherboard graphics, AMD as a lot of room for improvement. And graphics are becoming more important than the CPU.

I want to believe!!!

RE: No talk of speed
By Reclaimer77 on 8/24/2010 2:17:29 PM , Rating: 3
As for bulldozer, it should at least perform like a Core i7,if not slightly better.

You're basing this on...what exactly?

RE: No talk of speed
By JasonMick on 8/24/2010 3:04:03 PM , Rating: 3

You're basing this on...what exactly?

Don't know why you got rated down for this.

As much as I would love for AMD to succeed, there's still a lot of unknowns (for example, how's AMD's cache performance going to stack up to Intel's in access speed -- early info looks good, but hard to say conclusively).

And whatever the performance per clock cycle is, speed (determined by chip yields) will ultimately play a big role in determining if his statement is true. Granted speed is largely unhelpful as a metric, without a good feel for performance per clock cycle ... look @ the Qualcomm Snapdragon and Samsung Hummingbird ARM CPUs for example -- same clock, Hummingbird is about twice as fast.

But your question is fair.

That said, if AMD /can't/ beat the Core i7's performance, they're in deep trouble and seriously screwed up on their redesign. That seems unlikely, though possible.

RE: No talk of speed
By tedrodai on 8/24/2010 3:29:26 PM , Rating: 3
Don't know why you got rated down for this.

Was going to say the same thing. I would love for AMD to produce a chip that matches/beats i7's performance, but if there is any information out that could lead you to that conclusion yet, someone please share it. That is...share the facts, not propoganda.

RE: No talk of speed
By Taft12 on 8/25/2010 10:07:31 AM , Rating: 2
That said, if AMD /can't/ beat the Core i7's performance, they're in deep trouble and seriously screwed up on their redesign. That seems unlikely, though possible.

You and I are of different opinions here. I think there is a very good chance Bulldozer performance will not beat Core i7, but I also think that isn't a big problem.

It matters to readers of this site, but it is easy to forget what a tiny minority we are.

Intel's margins on Core i7 are wonderful, but it is a very tiny piece of the market. Look at the size of the market opportunity for Bobcat and Llano - it is much larger than the traditional PC market and from a business perspective, AMD is entering some very exciting times.

RE: No talk of speed
By Reclaimer77 on 8/25/2010 4:43:48 PM , Rating: 3
Don't know why you got rated down for this.

Because I said it lol. If I told you it was sunny outside, someone would argue.

That said, if AMD /can't/ beat the Core i7's performance, they're in deep trouble and seriously screwed up on their redesign. That seems unlikely, though possible.

I agree with this. But the new Phenom II's barely beat out 5 year old Core2Duo's on most benchmarks. So it looks like AMD's niche right now is competing with Intel's last generation chips, instead of the latest CPU designs.

As always, time will tell.

RE: No talk of speed
By just4U on 8/26/2010 1:10:40 AM , Rating: 4
Your comment is misleading. The I7 isn't leaps and bounds better then the core2 either. All of you who have had the oportunity to use the i7 core2 (quad or any of it's variants) and the PII know this.

Currently were at a wall (my opinion) and performance gains are fairly marginal. So still waiting for AMD or INTEL to step up and blow us away with a new design because no one has since 06.

RE: No talk of speed
By nafhan on 8/24/2010 2:35:30 PM , Rating: 1
The GPU on a chip is mostly going to be more of a boon for Bobcat and Llano(at least initially). We know AMD is saying they'll have 50% better "throughput" and 33% more "cores" than current Magny-Cours processors, and that's it. It's a different balance of execution units than anything else out there. So, how it does is probably going to be highly dependent on workload - especially since the "cores" aren't independent processing units like we have today. It sounds like it'll be a beast at integer operations, though.

RE: No talk of speed
By zephyrxero on 8/24/2010 4:13:37 PM , Rating: 3
You bring up a very good point, traditional desktop CPUs are going to continue meaning less and less. Smart phones, laptops and other mobile devices as well as set top boxes are gonna move the majority of computer users towards Arm/Atom/Bobcat type chips. Sure, geeks, artists, developers and businesses will continue having traditional desktop PCs, but for the average joe user, there won't be any point. With that stated, Bobcat will be much more important for AMD's survival than Bulldozer in the long run.

Of course, server class processors will continue to grow too as more and more of what we do moves to the cloud. And I guess Bulldozer will power future Opterons, so they'll matter too, they just won't sell as many.

Finally, with both Id and Epic hinting their next generation of engines will be moving toward ray tracing, and possibly doing away with polygons, AMD's Radeon division will matter much less, as rasterization is less used than features like OpenCL & Cuda which should be easily incorporated into Fusion style chips.

The company really getting screwed in this: Nvidia. They desperately need to buy or get bought by an x86 company.

"My sex life is pretty good" -- Steve Jobs' random musings during the 2010 D8 conference

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