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AMD's roadmap indicates 2013 will be a big year with a 28 nm exodus, three new CPU cores, and a new GPU core

At Advanced Micro Devices Inc.'s (AMD) 2012 Financial Analyst Day in Santa Clara, Calif., the company's latest CEO, Rory Read, outlined his vision for the firm.  The talk hit on many points, both in terms of the company's roadmap of chip releases and in terms of its long-term technology direction.

From the upcoming Sea Islands family of GPUs to the third generation, 28 nm Bulldozer core, Steamroller, AMD's plans are pretty diverse and ambitious.  Read on to discover more.

I. AMD an ARM Chipmaker, Soon?

Don't expect AMD to be pumping out Cortex-A15 quad-cores this year, by AMD dropped some pretty clear hints that it was mulling testing the ARM waters.  For the uninitiated ARM is one of two main architectures that is today vying for global CPU supremacy.

Traditionally AMD and rival Intel Corp. (INTC) have supported x86, a complex instruction set computer (CISC) style of architecture.  x86 chips have dominated traditional personal computers, outshipping all other archictectures in this segment.

On the other side of the fence is ARM, a reduced instruction set computer (RISC) style of architecture.  ARM chips are produced by third parties based on the instruction set, and often, on the intellectual property (IP) core designs of England's ARM Holdings plc (LON:ARM).  Today ARM dominates the mobile devices space and is the world's most used CPU outshipping x86 chips in quantity thanks to its strong embedded market share.  Top mobile device ARM chipmakers in today's market include Qualcomm Inc. (QCOM), Texas Instruments Inc. (TXN), Samsung Electronics Comp., Ltd. (KS:005930), Marvell Technology Group ltd. (MRVL), and NVIDIA Corp. (NVDA).

Microsoft Corp.'s (MSFT) Windows 8 will be the first mainline version of Windows to support ARM chips in its personal computers.  There's also growing interest in ARM in the datacenter space, thanks to its strong power performance.

At the analyst day AMD showed off a slide, stating:


AMD IP cores

The slide is hardly subtle.  ISA in this context stands of instruction set archictecture.  So AMD is saying that it is considering non-x86 instruction sets for make SoC (system-on-a-chip) processors for datacenters, SoCs that can use "third party IP [cores]."  

Given that this explicitly describes the ARM chipmaking approach, it seems extremly likely that AMD is considering ARM server chips similar to those being produced by ARM Holdings subsidiary Calxeda for Hewlett-Packard Comp. (HPQ) (the world's largest sever maker).

According to Anandtech's Anand Lal Shimpi, AMD even went as far as to name-drop ARM several times during the presentations, although stopping short of making a specific commitment to ARM.

An AMD defection (at least in part) to ARM would not exactly be surprising, given all the momentum ARM has, and the financial burden it would take off AMD's chip-developing units.  But it would be a major blow to Intel, who would be left in the lonely position of being the lone proponent of x86, pitted against a unified alliance of virtually every other large chipmaker in the traditional and mobile personal computer space.

Could this defection spell the death of x86?  Well, it's far too soon to declare the world's most used traditional PC CPU architecture being put out to pasture, but this is -- at the very least -- a big blow to Intel in terms of confidence in x86.  It will become an even bigger blow when (and if) AMD takes its plans from paper/labs and puts out ARM product.

II. AMD Works to Unify Offerings in Core Design, Memory Access, and Process

Currently AMD makes a mix of CPUs, GPUs, accelerated procesor units (APUs: CPU+GPU), and chipsets.  While AMD discrete graphics sales have solid in recent years after AMD helped turn around its struggling ex-ATI unit, discrete graphics sales as a whole have slowed.  AMD and its GPU rival NVIDIA can blame integrated graphics -- including Intel's increasingly powerful on-die GPUs -- for cutting into sales.

But AMD is looking to make GPU's more of a value proposition by offering hassle-free advance GPU acceleration of everyday programs like web browsers and photo editing.  To some extent these technologies already exist [1][2].  But their quality is hindered by the GPU's high memory latency, and the need to write custom logic in special APIs.

AMD's slides describe a slow unification process between GPUs and CPUs that will help to remove the latency and specialization.  It says the first step landed last year (with Fusion) when AMD deployed chips whose on-die CPU and GPU shared the same power circuitry.

GPU and CPU unification

Next, this year and next year AMD will be slowly giving its GPUs greater access to the CPU's memory pool (cache, RAM).  The final step lands in 2014, something AMD refers to as Heterogeneous Systems Architecture (HSA).  With HSA, the GPU is able to run CPU-like workloads for the first time, meaning that you won't need to recompile or write custom logic to exploit the benefoits of GPU computing.

AMD is also looking to unify its process for various chips down to the 28 nm node by 2013.  Currently AMD offers a mix of 28 nm, 32 nm, and 40 nm offerings.

III. New Core Designs, Server Chips Revealed

AMD only plans to release one 28 nm chip family this year -- the just released Southern Islands GPUs [1][2] (led by the high-end Tahiti family).  The chips is being produced on processes by Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Comp., Ltd. (TPE:2330).

AMD consumer roadmap APUs and GPUs

On its 32 nm (GlobalFoundries) node, AMD will be dropping its next-generation APU, high-power APU Trinity.  Aimed at < 18 mm ultrathinsTrinity will look to take on Intel's Ivy Bridge.  While the Intel chip will clearly have a healthy lead on performance, AMD hopes to beat Intel on everything else -- price, graphics, and power performance (the latter goal might be a bit of a struggle, thanks to Intel's slick power-saving 3D FinFET technology).

Even if AMD can just beat Intel on price and graphics, alone, it may win the sales war (assuming it can produce enough chips).  In our recent poll 35 percent of readers said they would be more interested in a $500 USD or less Trinity ultrathin, versus only 17 percent claiming interest in a $700-$1,000 USD Ivy Bridge design.

On the 40 nm node AMD has two APUs planned -- Brazos 2.0 and Hondo.  Hondo will be aimed at Windows 8 tablets, with a 4.5W TDP.  It will pack 1 - 2 low voltage Bobcat cores and an on-die DX11 GPU.  Meanwhile Brazos 2.0 is expected to see use in budget notebook and netbook designs.  It brings AMD's TurboCore (built-in automatic overclocking) technology, along with support (at last) for USB 3.0.

On the server side, AMD will be sticking with 4/8/12/16 core Interlagos (Opteron 6200 series) chips and 6/8 core Valencia (Opteron 4200 series) chips.  It will fill in the low-end gap, offering in Q1 2012 (by March) Zurich, a 4/8 core chip series with support for only a single hyperthreading channel (vs. 2 in Valencia and 4 in Interlagos).

But in late 2012/early 2013 is where things will get really interesting.  First, in 2013 AMD plans to have another brand new GPU architecture (that's its second in two years!), name Sea Islands.  

But on the CPU/APU front things are getting even more interesting.  Virtually all of AMD's product line will be moving to down to 28 nm (versus its current mix of 32 nm/40 nm).  AMD will also be rolling out three new CPU cores -- Piledriver (aka "enhanced Bulldozer"), Steamroller, and Jaguar.  

Piledriver will land first, sometime in late 2012 or early 2013.  Past slides indicated a 2012 launch, but it's possible this date has slipped, given TSMC's difficulty in scaling up 28 nm production and GlobalFoundries' incomplete transition to the 28 nm node.  

AMD Server roadmap

Piledriver is the direct successor to Bulldozer, and, as is typical, will first see action in server chips.  It will drop in the Socket G34 4/8/12/16 core Abu Dhabi family of Opteron CPUs (the successor to Interlagos), Socket C32 6/8 core Seoul Opteron CPUs (the successor to Valencia), and Socket AM3+ 4/8 core Delhi Opteron CPUs (the successor to Zurich). (AMD's Terramar and Seppang codenames are no more, replaced by Seoul and Delhi.)

Steamroller, acording to past slides, is the direct core architecture successor to Piledriver.  And Jaguar is the direct successor to Bobcat.  Steamroller will be paired with "Graphics Core Next" (GCN) GPU cores -- the same kind found in AMD's Radeon 79xx HD series -- in APU designs.

IV. Consumer CPUs, APUs for 2013

AMD will four families of refreshed laptop and desktop chips (six, if you count laptop and desktop incarnations of the same APU family as separate).  The majority of AMD's new designs are APUs.  Correspondingly, APUs will look to drive the majority of AMD's desktop and laptop shipments in 2013.  

AMD APU and CPU roadmap

On the performance desktop end AMD will drop new 4/8 core Piledriver-based "FX" series CPUs.  Dubbed Vishera, these chips will be AMD's only upcoming non-server line to not include an on-die GPU.  In other words, this is the sole non-APU design in the consumer mix.

On the opposite side of the spectrum (tablets), AMD will drop the 28 nm, 2 watt TDP, Temash APU.  AMD has not clarified whether Temash will include GCN GPU cores or an earlier design (this is an important hole in AMD's roadmap information).  Windows 8 tablets look to be very big in holiday 2012 and 2013, and AMD is clearly hoping to hit a sweet spot in terms of price, power, and performance, staying competitive with ARM and Intel.

(Note: there is a discrepancy between slides... one spells this chip Temash, one spells it Tamesh.  The correct spelling is Temash (like the river in Belize).)

On the mid-range, AMD will deploy Kabini for laptops and desktops.  Based on the Jaguar core -- the successor to Bobcat -- Kabini will come in dual-core and quad-core variants.  It will pack GCN GPU cores, as well, onto a brand-new system-on-a-chip die, which will also be utilized as Temash's die.  The die has a built-in "Fusion Controller Hub" (FCH), AMD's bridge circuitry that controls talk between the on-die CPU, GPU, and external I/O devices (RAM, external channels, PCIe, etc.).

Lastly, AMD's 2013 high-end APUs will be code-named Kaveri and will come in dual-core and quad-core desktop and laptop variants.  Kaveri will pair Steamroller CPU cores with GCN GPU cores, like Kabini.  

For fans of knowing where these crazy codenames come from:
Abu Dhabi -- The capital of the United Arab Emirates and richest city in the world.
Seoul -- The capital and largest city in South Korea, largest metropolis in developed world.
Delhi -- The capital city of India, second largest city in India, and eight largest in the world.

Vishera -- A Russian river in the Ural mountains

Llano -- A Texas River.
Trinity -- A trio of holy figures in traditional Catholic Christianity, the name of several cities, and the name of the female protagonist of The Matrix series.
...Also, apparently, this is the name of rivers in California and Texas.
Kaveri -- A large river in southern India.
Brazos -- A river in Texas.
Kabini -- Another river in southern India.
Hondo -- Another river in Belize.
Temash -- A river in Belize, a Carribean-facing Central American nation.

GPU Cores:
Northern Islands -- Line of Marianas islands in the Pacific Ocean.
Southern Islands -- A series of islands in Singapore.
Sea Islands -- An oxymoronically entitled chain of barrier islands off the coast of South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida.
Tahiti -- An French island in the Pacific.

CPU Cores:
Bulldozer -- A large machine with a flat shovel scoop attach to the front to push earth.
Bulldozer graphic
[Image Source: (original: AnandTech; modifications: DailyTech/Jason Mick]

Piledriver -- A hydraulic piece of machinery that pushes pillars into the ground for large structures.
Steamroller -- A vehicle with a heavy metal cylindrical roller, used to flatten concrete or earth.
Excavator -- Similar to the "Backhoe", this heavy machine is capable of digging with a scoop shovel.
Excavator Core wide
[Image Source: (original: AnandTech; modifications: ArsTechnica]

Kabini -- Another river in southern India
Temash -- A river in Belize, a Carribean-facing Central American nation.
Bob -- A river in Belize, a Carribean-facing Central American nation.
Temash -- A river in Belize, a Carribean-facing Central American nation.

IV. Remaining Questions

Overall AMD's strategy of pursuing accelerated development of APUs (no pun intended!) -- seems wise given that they were its biggest success in 2011.  AMD has essentially conceded the die-shrink race to Intel, partially because it is out of its hands (as AMD has switched to third party fabs).

But AMD is wagering that Intel has overdelivered in the CPU department with Ivy Bridge, producing a powerful chip, but one that is too expensive to appeal to the majority of consumers.  If AMD is right (which it may be), it will buy itself time, as Intel won't get out cheaper Atom-based 22 nm parts to 2013.  In this sense AMD will go from pitting 32 nm parts versus 22 nm parts to pitting 28 nm parts versus 22 nm parts -- a slightly less bleak competition.

There are some big questions left by the roadmap, though:
+What is the timeframe for third party IP core-based server SoCs?
+Will the 32 nm Vishera drop in Q1 2013, versus Q3 2013 drops for Kabini, Temash, and Kaveri?
+Will Temash include GCN or some other graphics architecture?
+What is the status of the Steamroller-successor Excavator (Bulldozer Gen. 4)?

+Does Trinity pack a Bulldozer or a Piledriver (Bulldozer Gen. 2) core? 

Overall, AMD deserves some praise.  Despite dipping into the red, it has handled the messy transition from a first-party chip manufacturer into a fabless chipmaker better than expected.  It delivered two compelling products in 2011 -- Southern Islands and Fusion.

2012 looks to be a bit of a slower year for the company, as it fleshes out its product lineup.  Probably the biggest single launch will be Trinity, as it promises strong sales if AMD and its partners can deliver high-volume sub-$500 ultrathins.  In close second will be Southern Islands, aka Radeon 7xxx HD series GPUs, which -- for now -- enjoy a key time-to-market lead on NVIDIA's upcoming Kepler (GeForce GT_ 6xx/7xx) family.

2013 looks to be a far, far bigger year for AMD, though, with the new Piledriver and Jaguar families dropping early, and the Steamroller family dropping late.  Sea Islands will also land somewhere in the mix.  And, most importantly, 2013 will be the timeframe for AMD's big exodus down to 28 nm.  It is critical that AMD, TSMC, and Global Foundries deliver on 28 nm in 2013 -- their cumulative fate may depend on it, in the face of a hungry Intel.

Remember, these roadmaps, though, may change depending on how things go.

[All slides are courtesy of AMD via Anandtech.]

Source: Anandtech

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All this effort.... foiled by lousy drivers
By morgan12x on 2/6/2012 12:17:25 PM , Rating: -1
I have purcachased AMD many times over the years as well as Intel/Nvidia combos. It never ceases to amaze how poorly AMD drivers and software is written. Most recently I went with a laptop that had an A6. First install of drivers was painless and worked. (mostly bug free) Upgraded to Catalyst 12.1 and... BSOD. You mean they can't even go through an update correctly!?!?! I update my Nvidia drivers on a Windows 7 machine and often it doesn't even require a reboot. Sorry AMD. I'm not buying anymore. Your prices aren't tempting when I know your drivers/software are going to waste hours of my time.

By Basilisk on 2/6/2012 12:46:21 PM , Rating: 3
I agree that AMD has some driver-delivery issues: twice in the past two years I've updated AMD drivers and ended up with "focus" issues wherein my left-button seemed disabled or took incorrect actions. [Of course, I was dumb enough to bury both those AMD updates amid a score of MS updates, initially confusing the cause.] Each time an eventual delete and re-install fixed the issues, so I won't damn the drivers themselves. I'll continue to buy AMD products when appropriate.

OT: Get some sleep, Mick. This article hasn't been proofread to your usual standards. Also, note that Trinity is another TX river as well as one in CA, each of some historical note. And "sea island" is no more an oxymoron than "sea bird"; "sea" establishes the locale and it's just another term for a Georgia "barrier island".

RE: All this effort.... foiled by lousy drivers
By mjdaly on 2/6/2012 12:50:48 PM , Rating: 2
Let me get this strait. You purchased a laptop with one of the new Fusion based processor, then tried to upgrade the drivers. Would it be safe to assume that you downloaded them from the AMD website?

You should be aware that AMD, like nVidia, allows laptop manufacturers to add custom features to their laptops and thus, both do not support drivers on laptops directly. You have to go to the laptops manufacturers website to get new drivers as there may be features that were added that the normal drivers do not have support for. This has been the case with drivers on all laptops with either AMD or nVidea graphics for a LONG time. You can get "stock" mobile drivers from time to time, but there is no guarantee that they will work, depending on what the laptop manufacturer did.

Don't blame AMD, or credit nVidia for something you did not know.

RE: All this effort.... foiled by lousy drivers
By leexgx on 2/6/2012 1:34:06 PM , Rating: 2
no this is just purely AMD fault here

amd laptop driver downloader will not even start to big download on an laptop unless its on the supported list

desktop driver will not load on an laptop (it install the CAT thats all but not the driver part)

if he reloads windows and installs the up to date driver he find it not BSOD, AMD suck at driver updating

By mjdaly on 2/6/2012 1:51:39 PM , Rating: 2
No, they don't. You do not seem to understand that both AMD and nVidia allow laptop makers to add custom features to their laptops. That approved list is one that contains all laptops with stock features. Neither AMD nor nVidia directly provide driver updates for those laptop makers that customize their chipsets with additional features. The only driver updates you get with these manufacturers is what they provide after taking the stock AMD or nVidia driver and adding feature support for what they changed. This might be once or twice a year if you are lucky.

I have an HP 8510p with an AMD HD2600 GPU. HP added additional features for power saving and voltage regulation (as far as I can tell) and the stock Mobility drivers from AMD do not work. This is HPs fault for mucking up the design with extra features, not AMDs. In his case, the laptop maker deviated from the standard design for one reason or another and the stock drivers will not work. It is the job of the manufacturer to deal with this, NOT AMD. I have had several nVidia based laptop products as well. They are the same.

And a desktop driver should not load on a laptop anyway.

RE: All this effort.... foiled by lousy drivers
By Beenthere on 2/6/12, Rating: 0
RE: All this effort.... foiled by lousy drivers
By tecknurd on 2/6/12, Rating: 0
By Trisped on 2/6/2012 8:21:23 PM , Rating: 2
As a long term fan of the AIW cards I can say that yes, the software was very bad.

That being said I have seen problems with both ATI, AMD, and NVidia in the software/driver department.

Personally, I think it is an example of the state of competition. If there is less competition on the hardware side then the Software seems to get better. When their is lots of competition on the hardware side the software gets buggy and annoying.

RE: All this effort.... foiled by lousy drivers
By Motoman on 2/6/2012 8:33:27 PM , Rating: 1
You are apparently incompetent. I've been building PCs since Windows 95 came out - have build hundreds. Never had any problems with AMD or ATI drivers. Never.

The one and only time I could ever categorically say that a given device/driver was crap was on the NForce3 chipset. I was huge into Nvidia at that time...but every single machine I sent out with an Nforce3 chipset failed. Every single one. And each and every one eventually got a new motherboard with a non-Nforce3 chipset.

But that was it. The one and only time. You trying to persuade the rest of the world that there was or is something endemically bad about ATI or AMD drivers/chipsets is laughable. You should probably just set that screwdriver down and back away from the computer...

RE: All this effort.... foiled by lousy drivers
By tecknurd on 2/7/2012 12:28:13 AM , Rating: 2
There are two different factors. Computers that you built for yourself and computers that you built for someone else. I dare you call the people up that you built a computer for that had an ATI card in it. They will probably give you a cold shoulder and do not care to give you the finger. A good business only starts if the same customers keeps coming back for more.

Using this same tip is the reason I do not go back to the computer store that force me to go with Intel instead of AMD because the computer store people think that the problems that I had was a fault of AMD. News flash my problems were capacitors at the time but they did not know that. I am not going back to that store and I will not recommend that store to anybody. The nForce3 chipset issue probably was not the problem. It might be something else like the brand of the motherboard. Though nobody forced you to select an nForce3 chipset like the computer store force me to go with Intel instead of AMD.

You are telling me that I force you to go with nForce3. I did not. All I said and meant is that the software for 780G chipset and ATI graphics cards have pathetic software. The hardware runs well and probably better than nVidia's if good software is used like software from Xorg. This means use Linux and do not use AMD close-source drivers (fglrx). If I am going to use Windows, I would either use Intel graphics or nVidia.

I dare you say the same exact thing to my face because saying it online is completely different since it acts like a buffer for insecure people. I have problems with ATI and AMD software and graphics drivers. Other people have the same issues, so it is not my screw driver that is causing me problems.

By TakinYourPoints on 2/7/2012 4:13:11 AM , Rating: 2
AMD/ATI graphic drivers consistently have more problems than NVIDIA's. Even now I have friends in DOTA 2 and Battlefield 3 who are having problems, and the thing they all have in common are AMD cards. The same was obviously the case with Rage, massive issues with AMD drivers, but it was a crap game so I can't be bothered to think too much about it. :)

The only time I had BSOD problems in Windows XP were due to Radeon drivers. Switching back to NVIDIA was such a relief. It is ridiculous how consistently bad AMD drivers are while NVIDIA manages solid driver updates in time for everything.

By Kurz on 2/7/2012 9:42:09 AM , Rating: 2
I guess you haven't heard of Nvidia Drivers 196.75

RE: All this effort.... foiled by lousy drivers
By Motoman on 2/8/2012 11:57:46 AM , Rating: 2
You're wrong. Mind-bendingly wrong. And the fact that you assign blame for your 2 buddies problems to the fact that they both happen to have an ATI/AMD card is exactly the kind of dumbassery we expect from Macolytes like you.

I can guarantee you beyond the shadow of a doubt that Nvidia drivers are not better than ATI/AMD - and that any problems you personally have are almost certianly due to the fact that you're an idiot.

By TakinYourPoints on 2/19/2012 7:55:55 PM , Rating: 2
You are in such denial it is amazing. These are widespread issues, just check out support forums, but no, it is obviously the fault of the user and not the fact that AMD has had consistent driver issues with games for nearly a decade.

By Motoman on 2/8/2012 11:55:42 AM , Rating: 2
I dare you call the people up that you built a computer for that had an ATI card in it. They will probably give you a cold shoulder and do not care to give you the finger. A good business only starts if the same customers keeps coming back for more.

Essentially no one that has bought a computer from me ever buys one from anyone else ever again. There are no such problems. Period.

By Motoman on 2/8/2012 12:00:17 PM , Rating: 2
Oh, and:

I dare you say the same exact thing to my face because saying it online is completely different since it acts like a buffer for insecure people. I have problems with ATI and AMD software and graphics drivers. Other people have the same issues, so it is not my screw driver that is causing me problems.

I'd be happy to. If you think your problems are due to ATI/AMD drivers you're a catastrophic moron. "Other people" have problems with *everything*. There is essentially no chance you have more experience with both Nvidia and AMD/ATI drivers than I do, and I can categorically guarantee you that there is nothing about either of those drivers (except Nforce3) that is endemically bad. But you, sir, appear to be an idiot.

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