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Fusion processors are cheap, power efficient, and pack a powerful GPU -- a winning combination for budget designs.  (Source: Computer Shopper)

The chip has helped AMD finally turn the corner and return to profitability.  (Source: Maximum PC)

  (Source: Comic Vine)
Once troubled chipmaker appears to be turning the corner thanks to GPUs and CPU/GPU "Fusion" combos

Advanced Micro Devices, Inc.'s (AMD2006 purchase of ATI Technologies for $5.4B USD was widely criticized and scrutinized at the time.  But it now appears that it may have saved the company.

After a couple years of losses, AMD finally appears to be turning the corner this year.  The company reported [press release] an impressive net income of $510M USD on revenue of $1.61B USD.  Its operating income was $54M USD and its non-GAAP income was $54M USD.

The strong earnings were largely driven by AMD's continued dominance in GPU sales.  They also were driven by AMD's new Fusion system on a chip that packs power-savvy Bobcat CPU cores on a die with a full Evergreen (found in the 6000 series) GPU.

OEMs appear to be embracing the chip.  Acer, Asus, Dell, Fujitsu, HP, Lenovo, MSI, Sony and Toshiba have all launched Fusion designs.  And the chips are also becoming popular in the embedded sector for devices like casino machines, which need a more power GPU to drive a large screen.  Fujitsu, Kontron, Quixant and Congatec are all pushing embedded applications of Fusion chips.

Thomas Seifert, CFO and interim CEO, elates, "First quarter operating results were highlighted by strong demand for our first generation of AMD Fusion Accelerated Processing Units (APUs).  APU unit shipments greatly exceeded our expectations, and we are excited to build on that momentum now that we are shipping our 'Llano' APU."

The Fusion chips are proving so popular for several regions.  First, AMD has priced them very competitively, so they're winding up in very affordable laptop designs.  Secondly, the chips are very power efficient.  And finally they offer a nice performance blend, offering sufficient CPU performance and relatively powerful GPU performance.

By contrast Intel Corp.'s (INTC) latest design Sandy Bridge, also packs an on-die CPU/GPU pairing.  But the onboard GPU is significantly weaker, the power consumption is higher, and the chip is more expensive.  Thus while it is solution of choice for high-power enthusiast desktops and laptops, it's less than optimal for the much larger budget laptop/desktop market.  

Sandy Bridge was also hurt by early defects in its SATA connections, which have since been fixed.

A common criticism leveled against Fusion is that having a discrete GPU in a budget design is superfluous.  However, for Blu-ray playback or playing popular older video games like World of Warcraft, customers definitely come to appreciate the benefits of the design.

It appears that AMD is, at the moment, out-competing Intel much in the same way it outcompeted graphics chipmaker NVIDIA Corp. (NVDA) -- by attacking the low end.  Of course, AMD's growing Fusion sales likely would not have been possible were it not for new scrutiny from U.S. and European antitrust regulators that forced Intel to stop paying off OEMs to ignore AMD designs.

It's worth noting that Intel still leads AMD significantly in market share.  AMD is also experiencing leadership troubles of late, with a number of executives departing.

But at the end of the day, though, even in the face of these issues and bigger questions loom about the future of x86 processors as a whole, AMD looks much better positioned to be competitive with Intel.  And all of that comes back to the increasing returns from its strong GPU division.

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RE: Glad to see it
By Samus on 4/22/2011 1:53:29 PM , Rating: 0
While I agree Netburst gave AMD a chance to catch up to Intel in 2000, I don't think Intel is completely immune to screwups every now and then. The chipset bug this year gave AMD a slight edge as some mobile systems weren't available to purchase, giving AMD systems a sales boost.

But more importantly, Intel is blindly pushing x86 30+ years after its creation (about one thousand dog years for a cpu architecture) and has just been patching it along the way with MMX, SSE, x64 (AMD 64, really, and probably the most important improvement.) In reality, what needs to happen is a widespread adoption of a more power efficient, pipeline efficient architecture based on RISC. AMD can take advantage of Intels' unwillingness to abandon x86.

I know people bitch and moan about x86 backwards compatibility and etc, but in reality people, most legacy programs people need to run x86 are very low power, discontinued programs of yesteryear that will run just fine emulated on a powerful RISC architecture. Microsoft knows this, which is why Windows 8 will support ARM and likely have a virtual machine for x86 legacy programs, perhaps even running XP mode. It only has to be Pentium 4 performance to keep most people happy and running their Peachtree accounting, Dataframe, or POS kiosk apps that are 10 years old anyway.

Any new programs will likely be compiled in the newer architecture, and most programmers will be very willing to be onboard since its CHEAPER to program for RISC since its simpler. The added benifit of cross-platform compatibility with mobile devices makes it even more no-brainer.

If Intel doesn't achnowledge RISC and produce competing chips with ARM, perhaps this will be the next 'netburst' opportunity AMD needs to hammer back at Intel.

RE: Glad to see it
By acsa77 on 4/22/2011 6:39:05 PM , Rating: 2
RISC vs. CISC (x86) is not as simple, as decades ago. This is a much more complex question. Just read the expert debates. RISC took a lot over from CISC and vice versa. And the nowadays ARM architectures take over a lot from x86 capabilities. Desperately. And nowadays x86 has maybe 10-20% from the original architecture. (Both instruction set and implementation.) x86 has the advantage of extraordinary flexibility in intelligent computing. And Intel is still improving. It is the only platform in the commercial segment to handle AI overhead. The crunchers based on GPU are very inflexible, and confined to relatively primitive tasks. Maybe in 5-6 years this will improve, and then you don't have to build a blade cluster with a lot of inert mass to have multi-node intelligence. Intel had this premature idea with Larrabee but failed.

But I also agree, that Intel also failed with providing the philosophy of Fusion for consumers. And AMD is generally more friendly in terms of platform-services, in all areas. But of course if you want highest x86 performance actually, then you have to choose Intel.

"If you look at the last five years, if you look at what major innovations have occurred in computing technology, every single one of them came from AMD. Not a single innovation came from Intel." -- AMD CEO Hector Ruiz in 2007

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