Monday, April 4, 2011

AMD Llano APUs Shipping

In a analyst call today AMD mentioned that Llano APUs (Advanced Processing Units) are now "shipping for revenue," and should be appearing in computer systems later in this quarter (by June). This means that samples went out some time ago, sample systems were built, and the various computer makers are now moving to volume production.

Llano is interesting because it is outside the Bobcat and Bulldozer core paradigm most associated with AMD's Fusion program. Like the chips based on Bobcat and Bulldozer CPU cores, Llano also integrates a pretty high-end graphics processor (GPU) on the chip. However, Llano uses an updated Athlon (K-10) core. For most computer users that will make for a mean machine. Intel, AMD's bigger rival, is behind AMD in graphics technology. For most users graphics is now the bottleneck. Games and video need strong graphics processing, as does almost any content creation work. Llano-based computers should be very fast, very good with graphics, and very inexpensive.

For AMD investors the good news is that the profit margins on Llano chips are going to be better than those of older AMD chips. In effect, as older non-Fusion chips are phased out, everyone gets upgraded graphics computing ability. Gamers and other high-end users will still want to add a discrete high-end graphics card, but your everyday computer will have very good graphics capability without the expense of the separate card. In return the chip will be somewhat more expensive, and show a better profit margin. The impact on Q2 2011 will probably not be great. The computer industry is fairly seasonal. In Q3 there will be the usual seasonal ramp in production, getting ready for back-to-school and holiday shopping. OEMs will have Llano-based computer production in full tilt by then. Last-year's computers will be on fire sale.

Keep in mind that this puts what would have been, a decade earlier, a personal supercomputer on everyone's computer. These new PCs will have way, way more computing power than tablet computers based on ARM chips. Software makers are going to be able to do amazing things once they can count on APUs with parallel processing capabilities that can be used for many applications besides graphics. Many of these applications will make big computer screens even more desirable. Portability is great, but there is still a lot of future in big screens tied to truly capable computing machines.

Of course, rival Intel has a lot of marketing muscle. But the graphics capabilities of its new chips are seriously deficient, not even able to run the DX 11 graphics standard of Windows 7. That means for a good video or gaming experience anyone buying an Intel-based machine will also have to buy a graphics card based on AMD or NVIDIA graphics processors. Most consumers may not understand that, but the big OEMs do, and some of the sales people at Best Buy seem to understand that as well. Interestingly, Apple is currently building machines with Intel CPUs and AMD graphics chips, but I would not be surprised if Apple introduces Fusion based machines some time in 2012. Once the graphics leader, Apple can't afford to fall to far behind Windows in this race.

See also:

My main amd page

AMD Llano demostrated [October 19, 2010]

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