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AMD Details Upcoming 32nm Fusion Processor, Codenamed "Llano"

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News Posted: Tue, Feb 9 2010 5:25 PM
AMD revealed more information on its first Fusion-class product at ISSCC this week. The new chip will combine both a CPU and GPU on a single package, but don't use either nickname—AMD is  calling the new chip an "APU" or Application Processor Unit as part of its bid to shift product focus from the core components in a system to the tasks and workloads a system is capable of handling. Done properly, this could solve certain nomenclature confusions that have plagued the computer market from the very beginning, but we aren't holding our breath. Both AMD and Intel have tackled this type of rebranding before (think AMD Live! and Intel ViiV), with minimal success. For now, however, we'll roll with the APU designation.

The first thing to know is that Llano isn't Bobcat. In an article last month, we speculated that AMD's delayed transition to 32nm could impact the company's plans to launch a 32nm Phenom II-class processor, but this has not occurred. Llano is a 32nm derivative of the company's current architecture. Given the new details AMD has released, this makes good sense—Llano will target a wide range of operating environments (2.5 - 25W) compared to the 1-10W range AMD will target with Bobcat. The 2.5-25W operating envelope still represents a substantial step forward for AMD; the company's lowest-power 45nm mobile processors have a TDP of 25W (dual-core) or 15W (single-core).


One core of AMD's Llano. The chip doesn't have an L3 cache but allocates 1MB of L2 per core.

According to Senior AMD Fellow Samuel Naffziger, Llano will be a quad-core processor with 1MB of L2 cache per core, a 3GHz-or-higher operating speed, support for DDR3 memory, and an on-die DX11-class graphics processor. The die is also relatively svelte, at ~35 million transistors and 9.69 sq mm (excluding the 1MB of L2 cache, as shown above.) The big news on Llano, however, concerns the chip's power management and throttling technology. Mobile power consumption has always been a relative weak spot for AMD compared to Intel; an issue Llano should address when it
ships in 2011.




The new 32nm chip will introduce core power gating (a method of disconnecting power to the core when it's not in use); AMD claims its method of implementing this feature will reduce leakage power by 90 percent. Llano will also measure CPU power consumption digitally, by tracking a series of 95 signals from various parts of the die. At present, all CPUs, including Intel's, rely on analog thermal sensors that provide information on how hot the chip is running (and therefore, how the CPU clock should be adjusted). AMD claims that this digital approach gives it much more fine-grained control over clock rates than traditional analog measurements are capable of reporting. Finally, AMD reports that it's been able to "dramatically reduce the amount of metal and buffering in this system to reduce clock switching power by an estimated factor of 2."

AMD's Upward Mobility

Llano is currently scheduled to sample to OEMs during the second half of 2010 and hit the market 'sometime' in 2011. While we don't know anything about Llano's GPU as of yet, AMD has always emphasized the importance of a strong graphics processor in any system; we expect the company's DX11-class part to significantly outperform the IGP Intel currently includes with Clarkdale and Arrandale. Depending on when Llano drops, however, AMD could actually face competition from the mobile flavor of Intel's Sandy Bridge, which will integrate a 32nm GPU as opposed to the current 32nm CPU / 45nm GPU design.

Llano may not do much to close the CPU performance gap between AMD and Intel, but the new design could deliver substantially improved battery life as well as modest performance gains compared to AMD's current 45nm mobile offerings. Given the consumer market's current focus on long battery life and low power systems, Llano should be a definite step forward, particularly if its GPU performance can compensate for a relatively weaker CPU. AMD's decision to focus so aggressively on improving Llano's power consumption implies that the chip is more than a quick patch to carry the company between 45nm mobile parts and 32nm Bobcat. Given the degree of overlap between the two architectures' targeted TDP ranges, it's reasonable to think we'll see Llano scaling into smaller/lighter notebooks that might compete directly against Intel's CULV products, while Bobcat targets the netbook market currently owned by Intel's Atom.

If you want more information on how AMD and Intel are positioned for the coming quarter and what we expect from the two companies in 2010, check our reports here and here.
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Finally, the Llano's on-die DX11-class graphics processor will give people legitimate alternative to the crappy Intel's IGP. Great article Joel, besides netbooks, this looks ideal for tablets.

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JoelB replied on Tue, Feb 9 2010 5:55 PM

I don't know if I'd say it'll be an alternative to crappy Intel's IGP. Only 35 million transistors? That's not a lot. Isn't the Radeon 5850 1more than a billion transistors? Obviously it would be foolish to expect that kind of performance from an integrated chip, but if the transistor count is linearly tied to performance, it'd be 1/28th the speed of a 5850. Not exactly blazingly fast.

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True Joel, but the chip will be DirectX 11 compatible, and have power gating. Even the Sandy Bridge IGP will be only DirectX 11. Again, AMD is not marketing this as a GPU, even though the APU is based off the HD 5000 series core, so comparison to existing graphics cards may not be suitable.

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So it's an APU, is it? ...I wonder if they'll do any tie-ins with The Simpsons?


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rapid1 replied on Tue, Feb 9 2010 10:48 PM

This seems interesting on several factors. The power gating and direct digital measurement capabilities of course. On the graphics end though the 5000 series has quite a few iterations all DX11 capable. The also run both considerably cooler than anything they have ever put out as well as considerably more conservative on energy than anything they have made. Also as I had pointed out commenting on the Intel GPU/CPU having a 45nm gpu with a 32nm separate in one package offers considerable heat capabilities. Where this would be able to be cooled by a single heatsink, a dual setup will either require a very specialized as well as shifted heatsink. On top of the dual contact one side of a 45/32nm setup would be by default hotter. This layout looks much better to me, and from what they (AMD) have talked about on this unit both CPU and GPU will be able to share capabilities as needed. This may be interesting in operation to say the least.

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Xylem replied on Tue, Feb 9 2010 11:49 PM

This should be real interesting. Coz off late for the past year or so since the late 4000 series and early 5000 series, AMD has shown its clear dominance in the GPU segment, delivering blows to NVIDIA @ all unexpected times. Eyefinity is a wonderful technology and would love to see that implemented here in APU.

I really think now AMD has really what it takes (particularly after getting the grace money from Intel, thanks to EU :P).

All the best AMD, to break Intel's ridiculous monopoly.

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mhenriday replied on Wed, Feb 10 2010 6:59 AM

Looks to me as if AMD is doing a good job of producing valuable innovation - of great benefit to us consumers, not least because this means the market won't be reduced to a quasi-monopoly, with the negative consequences we've experienced with, say, operating systems....

Henri

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Joel H replied on Wed, Feb 10 2010 10:36 AM

Ok, a few clarifying points.

That's 35M transistors per CPU core, NOT counting L2. We don't know anything about the GPU--not its transistor count, or its design, or what it had for breakfast.

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gibbersome replied on Wed, Feb 10 2010 11:28 AM

Ack, you're right. How the heck did I miss that! JoelB, your comparison to the 5850 is completely debunked!

"At 32nm each core (minus L2 cache) is only 9.69 mm^2 and is made up of over 35M transistors. Each core is paired with its own 1MB L2 cache, meaning the quad-core processor will have a total of 4MB of L2 on-die."

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rapid1 replied on Wed, Feb 10 2010 12:58 PM

That is also 140M transistors for the processor cores alone. The picture is one core as well, so there will be 4 of these, and a GPU. I would like to see the layout of the whole APU myself.

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realneil replied on Wed, Feb 10 2010 4:07 PM

I look forward to seeing how it works. I could care less how they build it, aside from a completely casual interest. If they work significantly better than the bumbling Intel solution, that's gonna be a good thing. Integrated Graphics have needed a boost for a long time.

JoelH,.........as to what it had for breakfast, maybe it will be Intel's offerings,..............

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Joel H replied on Wed, Feb 10 2010 5:28 PM

Realneil,

That's not going to happen. On the GPU side, maybe, on the CPU side, no. Shanghai—Phenom II—can't match Westmere's performance. I suppose things could get a bit interesting if AMD tries to match quad-core Llano against dual-core Westmere, but even then, it's not at all certain that Llano would win.

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Tobi-Saru replied on Sat, Feb 13 2010 4:16 AM

Sooo what's the ETA on a full computer minus PSU on one chip?

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the0ne replied on Tue, Feb 16 2010 4:46 PM

looks good!

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