AMD pledges sharper graphics with new Fusion chips

AMD says its new A-Series Fusion chips are geared towards gaming, video playback and other 'visual' computing tasks

Advanced Micro Devices has promised a boost in video and graphics performance from its first Fusion processor aimed at the mainstream PC segment, which will go on sale in laptops later this month and desktops soon after, AMD announced Tuesday.

The new A-Series Fusion chip combines a quad-core CPU on the same silicon die as a DirectX 11-capable GPU and a dedicated chip for video encoding and decoding. That makes it well suited to tasks like video playback, gaming, and video and photo editing, AMD said.

AMD released the first Fusion chips, with dual-core CPUs, earlier this year for netbooks and thin-and-light laptops. The quad-core chips are the first Fusion processors that AMD has released for more powerful, mainstream PCs.

Hewlett-Packard announced 11 A-Series notebooks on Tuesday, priced from US$449 to $699. Lenovo, Acer, Dell and others are also expected to release laptops with the new chips, said John Taylor, AMD director of client product and software marketing. Desktops will follow about a month later, he said.

The A-Series chips still use the same CPU core as the AMD Phenom II processors they are designed to replace, albeit with a few tweaks. Fusion chips with AMD's new Bobcat CPU architecture will be available sometime in 2012, Taylor said.

Even with the Phenom II cores, the the on-board graphics and CPU enhancements mean the new parts should perform "significantly" better than the Phenom II, according to Dean McCarron, principal analyst at Mercury Research.

AMD claims the processors can handle graphics tasks with more power-efficiency than Intel's Core i processors, which would mean longer battery life. That's because the on-board GPU is essentially a discrete Radeon processor that AMD has bundled on the same chip.

The GPU is made up of hundreds of little processor cores, so it lends itself well to tasks that can be broken into small pieces, such as processing video frames. Those GPU cores can perform such work more efficiently than a smaller number of more powerful CPU cores, according to AMD.

That's true in theory, McCarron said, but he wanted to see the chips in action before passing judgment on their performance.

It's important for AMD to get developers to write software take advantage of all those GPU cores, using APIs (application programming interfaces) such as OpenCL. That's why it plans to announce the chips its software developer summit in Seattle on Tuesday.

AMD announced three A-Series processors, each in a 35-watt and 45-watt version. The A4 has a dual-core CPU and 240 Radeon graphics cores, the A6 has a quad-core CPU and 320 graphics cores, and the A8 a quad-core CPU and 400 graphics cores. AMD expects system prices to range from US$499 for the A4 to $699 and above for the A8.

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