Intel, AMD have similar designs on mobile devices

Intel's Sandy Bridge and AMD's Fusion processor lines answer mobile computing demands by combining CPU and GPU on the same die

Intel isn't the only company out there trying to play catch-up with ARMS and Qualcomm in rolling out processors suited for mobile devices. In the shadow of Intel's announcement of its next-gen Sandy Bridge processor at IDF, AMD is eagerly pointing at its own forthcoming contribution to smartphones and tablets: its series of Fusion APUs (accelerated processing units).

Like Intel, AMD faces the challenge of coming up with chips that are small enough to fit in the new breed of mobile devices, energy-efficient enough to keep machines running for hours on end, and powerful enough to meet the increasing computing demands of mobile users.

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Those are hefty demands indeed: Mobile users will expect their portable mobile devices to more or less do what their desktop computers or laptops can, such as playing Internet-streamed music while the user jumps between email, Web browser, and other cloud-connected apps.

Chipmakers know that they can't rely on the server to do all the heavy lifting in the always-on world of cloud computing. Rather, data and processes are continually flowing between device and server, meaning both sides have a significant load to bear.

Lo, Intel and AMD are taking similar approaches to tackling the challenge: combining CPU and GPU cores on a single unit.

AMD's solution its Fusion APUs, which combines the company's dual low-power CPU cores, code-named Bobcat, with GPU cores derived from its Radeon line. AMD has added a Unified Video Decoder to the die as well. AMD has announced two flavors of Fusion: an 18-watt TDP APU code-named "Zacate" for notebooks, desktops, and all-in-ones, and a 9-watt model dubbed "Ontario" for netbooks and small-form-factor desktops and devices.

Intel, meanwhile, announced a processor of its own aimed at the demanding mobile-device space. Dubbed Sandy Bridge, it too combines processor core and the graphics on the same die. This differs from the approach the company took on its current Core i Series, where the graphics and processor are in a multichip. Intel's Turbo Boost technology, which turns cores on and off as needed, comes along for the ride on the Sandy Bridge and works for both graphics and processing.

Notably, AMD appears to be a step ahead of Intel in prepping a processor for tablets and similar lightweight computing devices. The company demonstrated its Fusion chips earlier this year at IFA in Berlin and says devices running the chips will emerge in the first quarter of 2011. Whether that applies to both Zacate and Ontario remains to be seen.

On the other hand, Intel has said that the first set of Sandy Bridge chips, also due out in Q1, will come out on laptops and desktops. Server and workstation chips will follow. As for smaller-form-factor devices, well, that's not clear. Dan Olds, an analyst with The Gabriel Consulting Group, told Computerworld that "the lessons they learn ... will help them scale the technology down to fit into other devices like slates and smartphones down the road."

This article, "Intel, AMD have similar designs on mobile devices," was originally published at Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog.

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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