InsideHW: After the acquisition of ATI, AMD continued to use the ATI brand for some time, but now, AMD has decided to ditch it. What were the reasons behind this decision? Does it have something to do with the upcoming Fusion products, and effectively killing low-end graphics?
Leslie: There are a couple of reasons. We knew we were going to eventually do that when we bought the company 4 years ago. What we wanted to do was from a position of leadership with Radeon and we are now number one in the market share in graphics. The other thing is that we were doing research about the product name and company name. There is a lot of sentiment and emotions attached to it and there are many vocal and passionate users when it comes to GPUs. That’s why we wanted to be sure it would be accepted by the community. After doing some research last year around the world among graphics enthusiasts, we found out that the Radeon brand has an equal amount of equity, recognition and preference as the ATI brand. So what they told us was that we could actually take Radeon as a product brand, put AMD with it to make this connection and it won’t upset too many people. For the most part, the reaction was neutral to positive. We have Fusion coming, we are putting discrete level graphics on die with the CPU, so as far as upcoming products in 2011. and 2012. are concerned, there will be an integration of both CPU and GPU. You will still see the ATI brand on the market in the next six months, as we will give our customers time to do the transition and you will see a complete transition to the Radeon brand early next year.
InsideHW: We had the opportunity to try an Ontario-based system, and we are impressed by both its performance and power consumption aspects. As it is intended for HD netbooks and ultra-thin laptops, we feel it will fit that role perfectly. Could you give us an insight into which products you see Ontario implemented in and which partners are you collaborating with?
Leslie: What we are allowed to share today is that we have two cores in development, Bobcat, and Bulldozer, which is our high power core for servers and desktops. Bobcat will be used in Zacate CPUs, which is an 18 W processor, and Ontario, which is a 9 W processor. This is the first time we are talking about Zacate and the processor TDP. While an 18 W TDP is extremely good, we are especially proud that, even in the 9 W section, we are offering GPU performance on level with discrete graphics cards. The only difference is the frequency difference in both CPU and GPU engines, but there is no architectural difference between the two. You will see the 9 W featured in Small Form Factor desktops and embedded-type products. We have recognized that the next uber App we will see is video. Nowadays everything is about video, video searching, browsing, video creating etc. Up to now, the only people who were able to utilize the GPU were gamers and game developers. With Fusion, this will change, and ordinary users who are not so much into technology will start to use its power without even knowing that.
There is so much software that can benefit from GPU utilization, for example, antivirus programs, which are well-known to consume up to 70-80 percent of CPU cycles. If you look at the last 20 years, the 90’s were all about static email, all about 2D. The previous decade is all about HD, with people starting to obtain HD cameras, and create HD content. We are now at the beginning of a new decade, with people using the GPU for accelerated browsing, as well as content creation. This is where Fusion comes in, but we still need software to utilize all the new possibilities, of course. We have hardware layers in silicon where we do switchable graphics, then, we have support for many open standards like OpenCL, DirectCompute, and HTML5, but in the end, developers are the ones that need to use this power. For example, the camera on your laptop can recognize you and allow you to work just by scanning your face. As a very parallel process, face detection is much more suited to GPU than CPU, but when you have both of them integrated, you don’t need to write specific code, you just need to get something done in parallel and it will be done.
InsideHW: Can you be more specific about Ontario GPU specifications and performance levels compared to existing solutions, as well as Llano?
Leslie: We are shipping Ontario and Zacate in Q4 this year, and products should hit the shelves early next year. Llano will start shipping in the first half or 2011, and products should be available in summer 2011. While Ontario is oriented towards the netbook market, Llano is for the bulk of the market, in terms of mainstream and high-end notebooks and mainstream desktops. As we move from Zacate and Ontario platforms to Brazos, you will get more features, more functionality. At this time, we are closer to the market dates with Ontario and Zacate, and we can’t give any more information on Llano right now. Designing and selling to our customers is well underway, since it takes 12 to 18 months for notebook products to hit the market. And let me tell you one thing about Llano, the reaction of all our partners after seeing the demo was, in one word, “whoa”.
InsideHW: As we had the opportunity to observe Ontario working, we can’t but ask about Llano. Can you give us some more info, such as performance comparisons with Ontario, architecture…
Leslie: Bobcat is a whole new core, while Llano is taking an existing CPU core, existing graphics and adds a bit of its own special sauce, but we aren’t taking the new Bulldozer core to the next generation. There is an architectural difference from the core perspective, because we’re talking about different cores, but the way it’s implemented on the same die, well, it’s not that simple. The idea of a CPU and a GPU on the same die, shared memory with a discrete level of graphics top to bottom, that’s all the same, but it takes a different core to do that. We will have several different Llano APU’s with various levels of CPU and GPU processing power.
InsideHW: The industry is moving ahead really fast these days, and especially here at IFA, there is so much talk about tablets/slates. Some even say that slates will replace netbooks as the most booming market and push them out of the picture. Do you see Ontario platform used in this class of products with Microsoft OS?
Leslie: We receive a lot of tablet PC questions lately. I think we sit in a different spot in AMD than our competitor does. When you have around fifteen percent of market share, I think that the best way to serve your shareholders is to go after market share in your own market. I think that we are looking upon tablets as we were looking upon netbooks. The only way for our competitor to grow is to grow the market, while as for us, we can grow by taking share on the mature markets. And with Ontario, we are in a good position to do that, to grab a share of the netbook market. Frankly, “netbook” isn’t a good description anymore, since now, as you’ve seen, netbooks can do everything notebook can, but in a small form factor, and you no longer have to force that mobility and graphics trade-off. We will move to tablets when they are proven successful. Who will get lucky? I don’t know, Apple’s slam-dunk. Anybody else…? I don’t know. Netbooks are not as sexy as tablets, but 300 millions of them will be sold this year.
InsideHW: We heard that Facebook has been experimenting with ARM-based servers, as single thread PHP code is something they are using most of the time and ARM processors are very power-efficient and have good performance when used for this kind of tasks. Besides Turbo Core, is there some other way to increase the speed of single-threaded applications on these multi-core CPUs to fit this and similar roles better?
Leslie: I can’t speak for customers, but I can tell you this. I believe that there is a place for both x86 and ARM in both client and server markets, and that a particular customer agreed on that stance.
InsideHW: While Globalfoundries is not a part of AMD, during every fiscal report in the past year, quite a few losses were attributed to Globalfoundries’ expenses. Could you explain this to us?
Leslie: There is no relation between these two separate entities as one; there are two separate boards of directors, different executives. There are certain regulatory, financial rules in US, certain things that you are required to disclose on the financial statement. Now we are divested, and we have to disclose a few of these things that we have to do from the financial perspective. But that is not to imply that there is any relationship between the two as if it were one company, as we are now completely separate entities.