AMD looks to boost Fusion processor with investments

The chip maker will invest in companies that harness parallel-processing capabilities in hopes of expanding the market for its Fusion chips

Advanced Micro Devices is looking to invest in technology companies as it tries to build a hardware and software ecosystem around its upcoming Fusion processor, the company said on Tuesday.

The chip designer will invest in software companies to develop applications that harness the parallel-processing capabilities of CPUs and graphics processing units to boost system performance, said John Taylor, director of Fusion marketing at AMD. It will also invest in hardware companies such as original design manufacturers and component companies that could help expand the market for Fusion chips.

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AMD is developing new chips based on the Fusion architecture, which combines the x86 central processing unit and graphics processing unit (GPU) in a single chip. The first chips will appear starting next year in laptops and desktops, which are the "sweet spot" for the investments the company is looking to make, Taylor said.

"The goal ... is to help speed time to market for the kind of unique computing solutions and applications that Fusion products are designed to enable, such as breakthroughs in visual computing, performance per watt and device form factor," Taylor said.

GPUs are faster than CPUs at processing certain multimedia and scientific applications in high-end laptops, desktops and servers. But with Fusion, smaller devices like netbooks and laptops will be able to handle GPU acceleration, Taylor said.

"If all you care about is e-mail... that's one conversation," Taylor said. CPUs are good for basic applications, but new applications that dip into GPUs for speedier performance are emerging. For example, GPUs can work in concert with CPUs to speed up security applications that rely on facial, gesture and voice recognition. Microsoft has said that rendering of images and text in its upcoming Internet Explorer 9 browser would be accelerated by hardware.

"Fusion ... contains some important capabilities relevant to software development today," Taylor said.

The company has already made investments strategic to Fusion, though it declined to comment on the companies it had invested in. The company will also work with venture capital firms to select possible investment targets, Taylor said. The investments will be made as part of the Fusion Fund program, which was announced at Computex to promote software development.

AMD's chief rival, Intel, has been making similar investments to expand the x86 software ecosystem to new devices such as smartphones and tablets. Intel is working with Nokia to develop the Linux-based Meego OS, and also acquired Wind River last year for US$884 million to push its software into embedded devices.

AMD wants developers to convert applications that run only on x86 CPUs to take advantage of the GPU acceleration feature, said Nathan Brookwood, principal analyst at Insight 64.

"Fusion will bring those kind of capabilities at a price point that will be hard for anyone to match," Brookwood said.

A lot of investments will be directed toward software companies to ensure the availability of compatible applications when devices with Fusion chips are released, Brookwood said.

There is already considerable interest among hardware makers in the Fusion chip, Brookwood said. Dell earlier this year said that it was investigating Fusion for use in future PCs.

AMD already provides tools to encourage development of applications using the OpenCL standard, which includes a C-like programming language with APIs (application programming interfaces). Apple, Intel and Nvidia are among the companies promoting OpenCL. Fusion chips will also support Microsoft's proprietary DirectX parallel-programming tools.

There is also growing interest in Nvidia's CUDA, a set of programming tools to develop and manage parallel task execution. AMD could be encouraging software vendors to convert applications developed using CUDA to OpenCL and DirectCompute for Fusion, Brookwood said.

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