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What Took So Long?

AMD announced the acquisition of ATI in 2006. By 2007 AMD had a plan for CPU/GPU integration and it looked like this. The red blocks in the diagram below were GPUs, the green blocks were CPUs. Stage 1 was supposed to be dumb integration of the two (putting a CPU and GPU on the same die). The original plan called for AMD to release the first Fusion APU to come out sometime in 2008—2009. Of course that didn't happen.

Brazos, AMD's very first Fusion platform, came out in Q4 of last year. At best AMD was two years behind schedule, at worst three. So what happened?

AMD and ATI both knew that designing CPUs and GPUs were incredibly different. CPUs, at least for AMD back then, were built on a five year architecture cadence. Designers used tons of custom logic and hand layout in order to optimize for clock speed. In a general purpose microprocessor instruction latency is everything, so optimizing to lower latency wherever possible was top priority.

GPUs on the other hand come from a very different world. Drastically new architectures ship every two years, with major introductions made yearly. Very little custom logic is employed in GPU design by comparison; the architectures are highly synthesizable. Clock speed is important but it's not the end all be all. GPUs get their performance from being massively parallel, and you can always hide latency with a wide enough machine (and a parallel workload to take advantage of it).

The manufacturing strategy is also very different. Remember that at the time of the ATI acquisition, only ATI was a fabless semiconductor—AMD still owned its own fabs. ATI was used to building chips at TSMC, while AMD was fabbing everything in Dresden at what would eventually become GlobalFoundries. While the folks at GlobalFoundries have done their best to make their libraries portable for existing TSMC customers, it's not as simple as showing up with a chip design and having it work on the first go.

As much sense as AMD made when it talked about the acquisition, the two companies that came together in 2006 couldn't have been more different. The past five years have really been spent trying to make the two work together both as organizations as well as architectures.

The result really holds a lot of potential and hope for the new, unified AMD. The CPU folks learn from the GPU folks and vice versa. Let's start with APU refresh cycles. AMD CPU architectures were updated once every four or five years (K7 1999, K8 2003, K10 2007) while ATI GPUs received substantial updates yearly. The GPU folks won this battle as all AMD APUs are now built on a yearly cadence.

Chip design is also now more GPU inspired. With a yearly design cadence there's a greater focus on building easily synthesizable chips. Time to design and manufacture goes down, but so do maximum clock speeds. Given how important clock speed can be to the x86 side of the business, AMD is going to be taking more of a hybrid approach where some elements of APU designs are built the old GPU way while others use custom logic and more CPU-like layout flows.

The past few years have been very difficult for AMD but we're at the beginning of what may be a brand new company. Without the burden of expensive fabs and with the combined knowledge of two great chip companies, the new AMD has a chance but it also has a very long road ahead. Brazos was the first hint of success along that road and today we have the second. Her name is Llano.

The Llano A-Series APU
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  • ET - Tuesday, June 14, 2011 - link

    Legit Reviews found a big difference in game performance between AC and battery (see here: http://www.legitreviews.com/article/1636/5/). This made Llano and the i5 perform about the same on battery in Resident Evil 5. I assume that benchmarks here are on AC, so it would be interesting to test on battery. Reply
  • DXM1 - Tuesday, June 14, 2011 - link

    Great Review Anand! Once again we know intel is the best at all things computing. I liked how you included the i7 with 460m up to THREE times in some benchmarks. It was like you kept reminding us and casual consumers that massively more expensive parts perform better... Even if you test the same set-up 3 times in a row!

    I have to tell you that seeing the 3 intel blue bars on the top made me sigh with relief, I was worried that you may actually compare llano to the parts like i3 and i5 where it is actually meant to compete (like some other silly reviewers). My only gripe is you didnt add i7-2600kand gtx 580 OC'ed as those would have made the gap even wider from the AMD system.

    One question I did have for you is, how much does Intel pay nowadays for dishonest reviewing practices? Im short on cash because my job doesnt pay well and I was hoping to open up a website and promote intel just like you. Maybe we could even become partners and link to each other websites I think that would be cool.

    PS, could you post how much your integrity was worth before you auctioned it off to Intel? Im sure some of your fans would be eager to know.

    Your ex Reader, DXM1
    Reply
  • Sharken03 - Tuesday, June 14, 2011 - link

    Dont feed this troll, Anandtech is a great hardware site. Reply
  • Jamahl - Tuesday, June 14, 2011 - link

    Troll? it's the truth. What was the fucking point in showing 3x identical intel systems except to put 3x intel systems at the top of most benchmarks? It's goddam pathetic. Reply
  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, June 14, 2011 - link

    Or, I included these laptops because they're the only ones I still had where I could rerun all the benchmarks (specifically, PCMark 7 and 3DMark 11). Oh, snap! Heaven forbid we think about that. And if you read the 8000+ words of commentary, you'll notice how often we praise Intel's placement at the top of the charts -- and of course we completely ignore when they fall to the bottom of the battery life charts.

    I wish I had a secret stash of all the laptops I've tested in the last six months, because then I wouldn't have even bothered with including more than one GTX 460M + SNB. But your suggestion that we *not* include laptops because it pushes Llano down is even worse than what we've done. Should we only show laptops where AMD is better? Or maybe just laptops that cost under $700? Maybe we need to dig out an old CULV setup and then benchmark GMA 4500MHD again so we can laugh at Intel's IGP from two years ago?

    If you want a look at every laptop we've tested and where Llano falls in the grand scheme of things, I suggest checking into our Mobile Bench results. Hint: it's in the upper part of battery life, and in the middle to lower part of CPU and GPU tests; if you only look at IGPs, though, it's the fastest IGP. Hmm... that sounds a lot like what we said in our conclusion.
    Reply
  • pfastovsky - Tuesday, June 14, 2011 - link

    Jarred

    I think its a fair comment that asks Anandtech to keep their graphs in an article consistent with the same laptop set across a testing segment. As you said, you had to rerun all the benchmarks so why are the Civ laptops listed so different from Mass Effect, Starcraft etc?

    Thanks
    Reply
  • ET - Tuesday, June 14, 2011 - link

    The comment may be fair, and it's been mentioned before, but accusing Anandtech of being paid by Intel isn't. Reply
  • krumme - Tuesday, June 14, 2011 - link

    None of this explains the 3 identical setup.
    How on earth to you think it looks like?

    Its simply utterly pathetic, and an insult at our IQ

    I am no fan at this Llano apu, and from the start. think AMD should just have posponed it, and used the capacity for BD and serverspace, but this review is just far out.

    The important issue about llano have always been the power profile, and AMD just deliver in spades here. Far beyound expectations. The OEM will sell this like zakate, and the new trinity will not make it significantly better on the market than this with upgraded star cores.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, June 14, 2011 - link

    You know what's utterly pathetic and an insult to people's IQ? The suggestion that they can't actually comprehend the graphs. But just to show you that I have no "agenda" and I'm not trying to make AMD's Llano look worse than it is, I have taken a couple hours to go through, remove all the extra data, and regenerate all the graphs. (Yes, folks, creating all of these things does take time and our UI for doing this is not as easy as you might expect.) Of course, not all of the i7-2630QM + GTX 460M notebooks performed equally, so now I've "punished" Intel by showing worse results in some tests. Oh noes!

    Anyway, thanks for the input and sorry if the inclusion of more laptops was deemed offensive by some. They're just charts, people, and I even colored the "high-end" laptops bright blue so that you could easily filter them out in your mind. You know, something like: "Oh, those lines at the top are bright blue, so they're for quad-core Sandy Bridge laptops that cost about twice what the Llano laptop is expected to cost."
    Reply
  • AnandThenMan - Tuesday, June 14, 2011 - link

    Although I don't like the approach of the poster taking issue with the graphs, I completely agree on principle. This site has shown a clear pattern of making sure certain hardware always occupies the top of the graphs. Always. And don't insult our intelligence and pretend otherwise, please.

    Need I also remind people that this site included hand picked, overclocked Nvidia supplied cards (to the insistence of Nvidia) despite a policy that forbids this. I would caution people to take all results on this site with a grain of salt.
    Reply

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