AMD looks to narrow graphics gap for developers

Chipmaker's Fusion platform will remove need for developers to choose between building for mass market integrated graphics or higher-end graphics processors, reveal company execs, who acknowledge "misstep" that allowed Intel to grab market share.
Written by Liau Yun Qing, Contributor

TAIPEI--AMD is aiming to close the gap between integrated graphics processors (IGP) and graphics processors (GPU) with its next-generation Fusion family line, offering developers more flexibility, according to a company executive.

During his keynote at the sixth annual AMD Technology Forum and Exhibition (TFE) here Tuesday, Matt Skynner, corporate vice president and general manager of AMD's graphics division, said app developers currently face the dilemma of dedicating resources between building for lower-end IGPs and higher-end GPUs.

Developing for IGPs will enable developers to reach the mass market, while GPUs are used for developing the latest games that require more graphic computing power, Skynner explained.

AMD hopes to change this with its Fusion family line of APU (accelerated processing unit), which he said combines the computer's central processing unit (CPU) with GPU. He noted that developers only need to design for the APU which will then access the capabilities of its in-built GPU.

Skynner said APU's rival technology, EPG (embedded processor graphics), is missing a "major feature" as it does not support Microsoft DirectX 11 which is commonly used in game development.

A notebook powered by the Ontario APU, which is parked under the Fusion family, is expected to be out next year, said Jean Boufarhat, AMD's corporate vice president.

Luring developers to lure users
The chipmaker is looking to attract more developers to its Fusion platform which will then pull in the users.

In an interview with ZDNet Asia, corporate vice president of Fusion Experience Program (FEP), Manju Hegde, said AMD wants users to recognize Fusion by the capabilities available on its software platform.

Noting that there is no shortage of developers writing for the CPU, Hegde hopes to convert more developers to write for the GPU.

To drive this goal, AMD's FEP include various initiatives such as broadcasting Webinars, partnering with universities so students can pick up programming skills for GPU, on-site tutorials with AMD partners and working with researchers who publish research papers.

While Hegde is responsible for promoting FEP to developers, he said he also works closely with colleagues in the company's sales and marketing team who communicate with consumers to find out what innovation they want.

One such user-driven application targeted for launch next year aims to simplify video and photo search. Hegde said current file format for video is "cryptic", making it difficult for users to find a specific file among the pool of videos or photos they have in their computer. Using facial recognition technology powered by AMD's chip, the application will be able to tag people via video or photo files, he said.

Intel as a competitor
Meanwhile, archrival Intel last month showed off its next-generation architecture, codenamed "Sandy Bridge", at its Intel Developer Forum. Similar to Fusion, the Intel chip will integrate GPU and CPU on the same die.

Brushing off Intel's graphics capability, Hegde noted that the AMD competitor's move indicates it recognizes the fall of the CPU market and the rise of visual computing.

Graphics may indeed be AMD's stronger point, according to an industry analyst. In an e-mail interview, Gartner's principal research analyst of semiconductors, Christian Heidarson, noted that AMD has an advantage over Intel by targeting higher performance graphics.

To maintain this momentum, the analyst said AMD needs to show customers its products will provide greater opportunity for differentiation and margin.

Heidarson added that AMD needs to work with leading consumer brands such as Hewlett-Packard and Acer to promote its higher-end graphics chips to consumers so that users will recognize the brand and opt for Fusion-based systems even in lower-end product categories.

Collaborating with partners and OEM (original equipment manufacturers) will indeed be an important factor in AMD's growth strategy.

In an interview with ZDNet Asia, Don Newell, AMD's vice president and server CTO, acknowledge that the chipmaker made a "misstep" by allowing a gap to develop between the launch and actual market availability of its products.

The company "could have done a better job" by working with OEMs to ensure its products were accessible to the public, added Newell, when asked why AMD lost market share in the server segment to Intel last quarter according to figures from IDC.

AMD still suffers from the lack of representation "on the street", Newell added, noting that Intel has "over 10 times" the number of people dedicated to that function.

Describing the server market as a "high touch" business segment, he said while AMD does not sell servers directly to enterprise customers, there is a need to visit these clients and highlight products that are available when making purchasing decisions.

AMD also works with distribution partners such as HP and Dell to ensure their sales personnel push AMD forward during their sales pitch, he added.

Liau Yun Qing reported from the AMD Technology Forum and Exhibition in Taipei, Taiwan.

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