Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Arrival of AMD's Llano Fusion Chips

As a technology enthusiast (and an AMD shareholder), I was pleasantly surprised to come across news that the long-delayed AMD Llano series of Fusion chips have arrived. Or least they have begun shipments. This is a very positive development for consumers and shareholders alike, as the arrival of Llano solidifies the reemergence of AMD as a competitor to Intel.

So what's the big deal with the Llano? The Llano series of chips are the next step in AMD's expansion plans for the Fusion line of APUs (accelerated processing unit, which integrates the CPU and GPU together). Furthermore, these chips will be manufactured on a 32nm production technology -- that AMD's competitor, Intel, has been using for a year now. Reducing the chip size from previous 45nm production processes enables reduced costs, yet at the same time increasing performance and energy efficiency. While we have already seen the arrival of the Brazos/Zacate chips in the Fusion series, the Llano is a major breakthrough as it is designed to compete directly against Intel's i3 and i5 series. AMD has not been competitive in the mainstream mobile market segment (e.g. mainstream laptops) for quite some time now, and the Llano series have the potential to reverse the company's fortunes.

The Llano is formally branded as the Vision A-Series APU, first to be offered in three tiers: A4, A6, and A8. Each higher designation indicates an increase of graphics power, or number of cores over the previous one. The chart below (courtesy of tomshardware.com) should help to clarify matters:

Based on the benchmarks I have seen, the general consensus is that the Llano is an awesome piece of mobile silicon. Performance-wise, Llano chips generally triple the performance of the current Brazos line of Fusion-branded chips. The top-of-the-line Llano looks to be the A8, a quad-core beast with 400 Radeon cores. Although the benchmarks indicate the battery life to fall short of AMD claims "all day battery life" of 8+ hours per day, it is nonetheless impressive to say the least. Both AnandTech and Tomshardware run detailed tests on the Llano and results show Intel's SandyBridge line of chips retaining the speed crown.

But the story is different on the battery life front and video graphics: Llano at very least matches the battery life of SandyBridge series, and dominates in graphic-intensive tasks. This means that while it may not always topple comparable products offered by Intel in sheer processor power, the Llano is very competitive in battery life and graphical prowess. The latter we already knew --Intel's Achilles heel has always been video graphics-- but the competitiveness in battery life comes as a pleasant surprise. I currently manage about 4 hours of battery life on my Intel i5-equipped Lenovo Thinkpad. Just think of what you (or I) can do with double the battery life!

Whereas the first set of Fusion chips (codename Brazos) to hit the market primarily targeted the netbook market, these Llano chips solely target the mainstream (read: bigger). (AMD is also preparing the "Desna" series for the sub-Brazos market tier.) I am expecting Llano to be a hit, not a runaway hit like AMD's previous X2 processors, but a hit nonetheless. Given the current state of the economy, AMD's ability to better price their products will be a key selling-point to customers. The reality is that outside of geeks and gadget lovers, the average customer will chose the cheaper good when the performance is comparable -- or at least if they are told it is comparable.

No comments:

Post a Comment