AMD details speed, power saving features of Fusion

The chip will run at 3GHz and over, and draw up to 25 watts of power per core

Advanced Micro Devices on Tuesday offered more details about its forthcoming Fusion processor, including the speed, power consumption and plans to begin shipping samples in the first half of this year.

The Fusion processor, which is code-named Llano, is due for release in 2011, said Sam Naffziger, a senior fellow at AMD. The Llano CPU is modified version of the Phenom II core, which is currently used in its desktop chips. It will include a quad-core CPU and run at speeds over 3.0GHz.

Fusion will be a hybrid chip that combines a graphics processor and a CPU on a single piece of silicon. The chip will initially go into mainstream laptops, Naffziger said. 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.

The graphics processor in Fusion will natively support Microsoft's DirectX 11 technology, which should bring improved graphics and application performance to laptops.

A single Llano core with 1MB L2 cache has a TDP (thermal design point) of between 2.5 watts to 25 watts, representing the maximum amount of power needed to dissipate heat. The company did not release the overall TDP of the Fusion chip, which includes the graphics processor. Graphics chips are known to be power-hungry.

If all four CPU cores in the Llano chip are operating at their highest clock frequency, the overall TDP could be between 10 watts and 100 watts, without the graphics processor. Many of AMD's Turion laptop chips have a TDP of around 35 watts, with ultraportable Neo chips drawing half the amount of power.

However, AMD will use new power management capabilities to adjust the range of energy drawn by Fusion's CPU cores and graphics processor, said Gary Silcott, an AMD spokesman. The power management technologies were detailed in a presentation on Monday at the International Solid State Circuits Conference being held in San Francisco.

The company has introduced technology called core power gating. This disconnects power to an inactive core, helping to reduce overall power consumption and extending the battery life of laptops, according to an AMD paper presented at ISSCC. The company has also included technology that measures power digitally, providing more consistent accuracy than the earlier analog readings. This was possible through improvements AMD made in the chip design and manufacturing process, the company said.

Chip makers are looking to make processors smaller by integrating more components inside the processor. The tighter integration enables PC makers to create smaller and lighter devices.

Intel in December released new Atom chips that integrate graphics processors inside chips, which has helped products like netbooks become lighter, smaller and more energy efficient. It also released a new set of Core chips for mainstream laptops and desktops that are more energy efficient. The Core chips were made using the 32-nanometer manufacturing process.

However, AMD was the first company to plan a chip that integrated the CPU and GPU on a single die when it announced the acquisition of ATI Technologies in 2006. The release date of the planned chip was delayed multiple times as it tried to overcome engineering and manufacturing challenges.

The company originally planned to release the Fusion chip manufactured using the 45-nm process, but announced in 2008 that it would hold off until the 32-nm process to realize more power saving and integration benefits.

"At 32-nanometers AMD has introduced a high-k metal gate process for the first time to help manage power consumption. This, combined with the other traditional benefits of scaling from node-to-node made 32-nanometers the right entry point for our first APU [accelerated processing unit]," Silcott said.

AMD has also said it will ship the integrated Fusion CPUs for desktops.

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