AMD finally fuses CPU and GPU on one chip

Fab-u-less chip firm AMD has started putting meat on the bones of its Fusion promises with a detailed look at its first stab at integrating CPU and graphics on a single chip.

ATi and Nvidia may have battled each other to sell graphics cards but Intel has traditionally shifted more graphics units through its integrated chipsets.

Now, the combined expertise of graphics specialist ATi and AMD will finally be filtered into a single piece of silicon.

The platform may not signal the end of Nvidia, but it certainly is the case that the market for discrete graphics cards is finite.

At the International Solid State Circuits Conference (ISSCC) in San Francisco today, AMD said it wants to call the combination the Accelerated Processing Unit (APU). As if the world really needs another three-letter acronym.

Codenamed Llano, the first Fusion APU will be sampling in the first half of this year and shipping in 2011, AMD said.

The processor will combine four CPU cores with a graphics unit supporting Microsoft's DirectX 11 APIs. It will be the firm's first 32nm processor.

AMD has taken the STARS core used in its current 45nm offerings, fitted it to a 32nm SOI high-K process, and added a few tweaks.

"We are not using a low-end GPU, we're taking our leading state-of-the-art GPU and integrating it onto the same chip, so it shares the high-bandwidth DDR3 memory and features a high-speed communications channel between all the cores," AMD senior fellow Sam Naffziger pre-briefed reporters.

Among the power management features in Llano, is the ability to cut off processor cores that are idle. In the right application it is possible to close down all the CPU cores and just use the GPU.

AMD reckons the power management capabilities of Llano are good enough for it to serve as a mobile processor.