Which CPU? Intel Sandy Bridge vs. AMD Fusion

We explain the ins and outs of Intel's 2nd Generation Core CPUs and AMD’s new Fusion APUs

AMD Fusion

After years of demonstrations and lengthy delays, Advanced Micro Devices has finally started shipping Fusion APU (Accelerated Processing Unit) processors for netbooks, laptops and small form factor desktops PCs; priced between US$200 and $599.

Unlike Intel's Sandy Bridge family, the first batch of Fusion CPUs are aimed at mainstream PCs, all-purpose laptops and netbooks, with an emphasis on power efficiency. "Intel is starting at the high end, high price, low-volume segments of the market", explains John Taylor, AMD's director of client and software product marketing. "[This is] the segment of the market where discrete graphics processors are prevalent today."

AMD Fusion: What's inside?

The Fusion chips combine a CPU and graphics processor in a single piece of silicon, which helps graphics and programs run a lot faster. On some chips, the integrated graphics processor will allow users to view Blu-ray movies or play 3D games. It will also work in tandem with the CPU to execute data-intensive tasks faster.

According to AMD, Fusion chips offer better graphics performance than Intel's competing Atom chips, which are currently found in most netbooks. Fusion's integrated graphics processors are capable of playing 1080p high-definition video, while Intel's Atom chips, which also integrate graphics processors, are capable of rendering up to 720p video.

Fusion will also speed up processing in notebooks by harnessing the computing power of CPU and graphics cores. The graphics processors will accelerate specific video and graphics tasks such as Flash and DVD video playback, freeing up CPUs for everyday tasks like antivirus and word processing. The graphics processor in Fusion will natively support Microsoft's DirectX 11 technology, which should bring improved graphics and application performance to notebooks.

Until now, PC makers attached a separate chip in netbooks to render high-definition video, which drained battery life. The integrated graphics processors in Fusion chips, which are highly power-efficient, should help eliminate this problem.

Fusion APU chips will also make use of AMD's 'core power gating' technology. This disconnects power to an inactive core, helping to reduce overall power consumption and extending the battery life of notebooks. The company has also included technology that measures power digitally, providing more consistent accuracy than the earlier analog readings.

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