AMD seeks advantages as x86 processors morph

AMD is counting future changes to x86 processors to gain an advantage over the competition

The chips that make up the inside of an x86-based computer are changing. The traditional roles of the processor, chipset and graphics chip are blurring as functions change and new roles are created.

Advanced Micro Devices has led many of these changes and is counting on future changes to gain an advantage over the competition.

AMD was the first to combine the memory controller -- traditionally part of the chipset -- with the processor, which helped boost performance by reducing latency on the chip. AMD also beat Intel to be the first with a dual-core x86 processor. These advances helped AMD gain market share, but the company later stumbled badly with the delayed release of its quad-core Opteron chips and has yet to fully recover.

AMD isn't the only company that's rethinking how the inside of a PC should look. Intel also embraced multi-core processors and will combine the memory controller with the processor in its upcoming line of Nehalem chips, due later this year. Intel is also developing its own graphics processor, called Larabee. And Nvidia, which has a line of powerful graphics processors and chipsets, is eyeing a greater processor role for these chips inside the PC.

"The whole industry is going to heterogenous cores, the concept that you have different kinds of cores that do different types of stuff," said Patrick Moorhead, vice president of advanced marketing at Advanced Micro Devices, in an interview.

That means graphics chips -- which have dozens of cores able to process operations simultaneously, or in parallel -- will take on some functions handled by the CPU, and vice versa. "You have stuff that does really well when it's massively parallelized and you have stuff that does really, really well when it's more of a serial operation," Moorhead said.

"We see a world where both of them (the CPU and graphics chip) matter, and that's part of why we acquired ATI," he said.

Despite writing down a big chunk of goodwill from that acquisition -- effectively an admission it paid too much for ATI -- AMD is counting on ATI's graphics technology to gain an edge over Intel. This project, called Fusion, will add graphics cores to the same piece of silicon that already holds the CPU cores and memory controller, a design change that should reduce latency and lower power consumption.

The first Fusion chips are slated to arrive late next year.

AMD hopes to tap the rising performance of graphics chips, which are growing at a faster rate than CPU performance, Moorhead said. But hardware is just one part of a much bigger picture. Software applications will have to be rewritten to tap the full potential of multiple CPU cores and the parallel computing power of graphics cores.

"With our accelerated computing stuff, we're trying to put a layer in there to shield as best we can the developer from some of those complexities," Moorhead said. "Software doesn't move as quickly as hardware, so you've got to start with hardware."

Software designed for scientific research and industries like oil exploration and life sciences will be the first to unlock this potential because it's "economically feasible to write closer to the hardware," Moorhead said.

"A lot of these high-end usage models start in high-performance computing and make their way down into the mainstream," he said.

This transition will happen more slowly for consumers. The first application to take advantage of the changing PC architecture is video encoding, which can be handled by the graphics processor instead of relying on the CPU cores, Moorhead said, adding that more applications will come.

"It takes time, but you have to start somewhere," he said.

Join the newsletter!


Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.
Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Sumner Lemon

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Cool Tech

Toys for Boys

Family Friendly

Stocking Stuffer

SmartLens - Clip on Phone Camera Lens Set of 3

Learn more >

Christmas Gift Guide

Click for more ›

Brand Post

Bitdefender 2019

This Holiday Season, protect yourself and your loved ones with the best. Buy now for Holiday Savings!

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles


PCW Evaluation Team

Aysha Strobbe

Microsoft Office 365/HP Spectre x360

Microsoft Office continues to make a student’s life that little bit easier by offering reliable, easy to use, time-saving functionality, while continuing to develop new features that further enhance what is already a formidable collection of applications

Michael Hargreaves

Microsoft Office 365/Dell XPS 15 2-in-1

I’d recommend a Dell XPS 15 2-in-1 and the new Windows 10 to anyone who needs to get serious work done (before you kick back on your couch with your favourite Netflix show.)

Maryellen Rose George

Brother PT-P750W

It’s useful for office tasks as well as pragmatic labelling of equipment and storage – just don’t get too excited and label everything in sight!

Cathy Giles

Brother MFC-L8900CDW

The Brother MFC-L8900CDW is an absolute stand out. I struggle to fault it.

Luke Hill


I need power and lots of it. As a Front End Web developer anything less just won’t cut it which is why the MSI GT75 is an outstanding laptop for me. It’s a sleek and futuristic looking, high quality, beast that has a touch of sci-fi flare about it.

Emily Tyson

MSI GE63 Raider

If you’re looking to invest in your next work horse laptop for work or home use, you can’t go wrong with the MSI GE63.

Featured Content

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?