Our Thoughts: The GPU Side

The AMD/ATI acquisition doesn’t make a whole lot of sense on the discrete graphics side if you view the evolution of PC graphics as something that will continue to keep the CPU and the GPU separate.  If you look at things from another angle, one that isn’t too far fetched we might add, the acquisition is extremely important. 

Some game developers have been predicting for quite some time that CPUs and GPUs were on this crash course and would eventually be merged into a single device.  The idea is that GPUs strive, with each generation, to become more general purpose and more programmable; in essence, with each GPU generation ATI and NVIDIA take one more step to being CPU manufacturers.  Obviously the GPU is still geared towards running 3D games rather than Microsoft Word, but the idea is that at some point, the GPU will become general purpose enough that it may start encroaching into the territory of the CPU makers or better yet, it may become general purpose enough that AMD and Intel want to make their own.

It’s tough to say if and when this convergence between the CPU and GPU would happen, but if it did and you were in ATI’s position, you’d probably want to be allied with a CPU maker in order to have some hope of staying alive.  The 3D revolution killed off basically all giants in the graphics industry and spawned new ones, two of which we’re talking about today.  What ATI is hoping to gain from this acquisition is protection from being killed off if the CPU and GPU do go through a merger of sorts. 


The NVIDIA GeForce 256 was NVIDIA's first "GPU", offloading T&L from the CPU. Who knows what the term GPU will mean in 5 years, will it be a fully contained within today's CPUs?

ATI and NVIDIA both seem to believe that within the next 2 - 3 years, Intel will release its own GPU and in a greater sense than their current mediocre integrated graphics.  Since Intel technically has the largest share of the graphics market thanks to their integrated graphics, it wouldn’t be too difficult for them to take a large chunk of the rest of the market -- assuming Intel can produce a good GPU.  Furthermore, if GPUs do become general purpose enough that Intel will actually be able to leverage much of its expertise in designing general purpose processors, then the possibility of Intel producing a good GPU isn’t too far fetched. 

If you talk to Intel, it's business as usual.  GPU design isn’t really a top priority and on the surface everything appears to be the same.  However, a lot can happen in two years -- two years ago NetBurst was still the design of the future from Intel.  Only time will tell if the doomsday scenario that the GPU makers are talking about will come true. 

Our Thoughts: Will AMD manufacture ATI GPUs? Final Words
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  • leexgx - Wednesday, August 2, 2006 - link

    i have only seen integrated graphics on nvidia based chip sets
    Most on board vdeio is VIA/s3 or sis integrated graphics (intel chip sets been intel video)
    Reply
  • Calin - Thursday, August 3, 2006 - link

    ATI RS480, RS482 and RS485 are in this game too (chipsets with integrated video). They were plagued by southbridge problems - slow USB performance mainly, and lack of features (like SATA 2). Whether or not this was detrimental to them, I don't know.
    (you can find mainboards with ATI integrated chipsets from MSI and ECS)
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Wednesday, August 2, 2006 - link

    I agree with that. I think NVIDIA's comments are far more bravado than actual truth. However, if they can convince investors and consumers that they's "won the GPU war", it may not matter.

    My big problem with the deal: I don't know what AMD is doing spending $5.4 billon on ATI. Not that ATI is bad, but that's almost two new fabs. That's a lot of talented engineers making a lot of money for several years at least. I think ATI would be insane to not take the offer, but I feel AMD is almost equally insane to make the offer in the first place.
    Reply
  • Furen - Wednesday, August 2, 2006 - link

    AMD is borrowing the money to buy a viable, self-sufficient company. Convincing banks to let you borrow money for two fabs that will help you out 3+ years down the line is not very easy, especially considering that most people seem to think that AMD's growth is slowing down. Heck, having two extra fabs in 3 years could mean that AMD will just have lots of extra capacity with no use for it. Also, $5.4B for ATI is dirt cheap. Well, maybe not dirt cheap but undervalued considering that its portfolio rivals or surpasses nVidia's in many ways. Reply
  • AnandThenMan - Wednesday, August 2, 2006 - link

    quote:

    My big problem with the deal: I don't know what AMD is doing spending $5.4 billon on ATI. Not that ATI is bad, but that's almost two new fabs. That's a lot of talented engineers making a lot of money for several years at least. I think ATI would be insane to not take the offer, but I feel AMD is almost equally insane to make the offer in the first place.

    It is a big gamble for AMD, no doubt. A make-or-break deal in fact. But I would hope that the top brass has carefully considered the costs and the future markets/profits/advantages. With any high stakes game, the rewards are spectacular, but the cost of failing can mean you're history.

    I suppose having new fabs does you little good if you can't offer a platform to the Dell's and HP's out there. There is no doubt in my mind about one thing, AMD is aiming straight at Intel's integrated platform approach.
    Reply
  • Calin - Wednesday, August 2, 2006 - link

    AMD is trying to get in the game of long-term selling. The corporate computers initiative they had some years ago (or maybe a year ago) was a first step - "freeze" a computer configuration, which you can then offer for a long time (like 3 years). If a computer breaks, move its hard drive in a new computer in the same line, and have everything working with GUARANTEED no problems.
    AMD did good in taking over the enthusiast market by storm - but this market has NO loyality whatsoever - people will upgrade everything they need and everything they don't in order to get the next big thing. Having a guaranteed revenue of mostly guaranteed value beats that (having an non-guaranteed revenue of big or small value, like it happens now).
    AMD is much more ready to go in the corporate market - selling desktop computers, not just servers as it did until now.
    Also, take into account that if AMD is behind in the "next big thing" (whatever this might be), it really does not have the money to play catchup. Intel has both the money and the market inertia to continue to be a big player when everything else is against its products. So, AMD is puting its future on a bet that the next big thing will be core-integrated graphics. If this works, they would reap huge benefits - just like they were able to with the Athlon64 on desktops/Opteron on servers (and somewhat Turion on mobiles). Before the Opteron days, AMD was largely inexistant in server space (the Athlon MP started to make a buzz, but they had little market share).
    Will the money have been better spent on two fabs? AMD and ATI are both using external partners for creating chips, and this is more expensive only in the long run. In the short run, paying more for chips beats paying 3 billions to have your fab ready in three years. I figure the use of external fabs will continue long time in the future, and just the top of the line products will be built on AMD's fabs.
    Reply
  • darkdemyze - Wednesday, August 2, 2006 - link

    quote:

    Also, take into account that if AMD is behind in the "next big thing" (whatever this might be), it really does not have the money to play catchup.


    You say AMD doesn't have the money to play catch-up, and this is true that the whole deal is "a bet." But how else is AMD supposed to catch up? With C2D being released? Intel is going to have a huge impact on the performance sector by the end of the year - about the same time this merger is projected to be completed. What I mean by this is Intel is now ahead of the curve on AMD with this new architecture and according to their "new architecture every 2 years" roadmap, and Intel intends to not let the performance crown slip again as they did with Pentium4.

    So what is AMD to do to keep up? As you said, place a bet on "the next big thing" and hope for the best. I'm not discreditting AMD for K8L, or Torrenza for that matter. But I think at the very least Torrenza will be greatly effected by this endeavor. Personally I feel this is a very positive aquisition.
    Reply
  • Calin - Thursday, August 3, 2006 - link

    K8L is just a few months from launch, and it might get AMD to performance parity with Intel (or exceed Core 2 Duo, or be left behind). I am hoping for a draw or a win for AMD.
    What AMD needs is a cash cow (as Athlon64 was until now). Will the ATI acquisition bring this to table? It could very well be so, and there are enough niches and market slices where this strategy is a winner.
    Unfortunately, this might (or might not) reduce the competition in high-end video cards arena...
    Reply
  • Nelsieus - Wednesday, August 2, 2006 - link

    I strongly disagree with you.

    This, thus far, has been the best summarization coverage I've read on this issue.


    Reply
  • PeteRoy - Tuesday, August 1, 2006 - link

    AMD did not have it's own chipset with integrated graphics, audio and lan which is why it never made it to the offices where the big money is. Reply

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