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AMD looks to Internet of Things for growth and reveals embedded SoC plans at IDF 2013

If it's Intel Developer Forum week in San Francisco, the press conference you're at on day zero is probably being hosted by Advanced Micro Devices. That's a bit of an inside jab at AMD's traditional gate-crashing at its rival's annual developer showcase, but done with the best of intentions. It's reassuring to see the smaller chip maker show up at IDF year after year.

This time around, AMD happily shared the stage with ARM, underscoring just how much has changed in the computer chip business over the past several years.

The AMD Accelerate event had another interesting twist. The company isn't in San Francisco to talk about PCs or servers, the traditional battleground segments AMD has focused on during its counter-IDF pressers. But instead, it has introduced its product roadmap for processors and System-on-a-Chip (SoC) designs for embedded systems.

AMD, like Intel and so many other chip firms, is looking to the so-called Internet of Things for future growth opportunities. That involves connecting intelligent systems to each other and to the Internet with a compelling array of CPUs, GPUs, APUs, and SoCs, according to Arun Iyengar, corporate vice president and general manager of AMD's Embedded business unit, a mission that the company thinks is right in its wheelhouse.

"To succeed here you need a high-end CPU and a great GPU with hardware accelerators. The Internet of Things, 'surround computing,' and next-generation embedded systems — we see these as the major drivers for a lot of products in the next several years," he said.

Iyengar lifted the curtain on AMD's product roadmap for embedded systems through 2014, revealing a quartet of new 28-nanometer chips designed for segments ranging from industrial control and automation to digital signage to casino gaming systems.

First up is a discrete graphics chip code named Adelaar, which is AMD's first embedded discrete GPU based on its "Graphics Core Next" or GCN architecture used in the latest Radeon products. Adelaar has 2GB of integrated GDDR5 memory and can be configured in MCM, MXM, or PCIe form factors. Adelaar is set for release to embedded system builders in the first quarter of 2014.

Coming down the pike next are a pair of x86-based products code named Bald Eagle and Steppe Eagle, both of which are due out in early 2014 but a little bit later than Adelaar, per AMD's rough roadmap.

Bald Eagle is a high-performance APU featuring AMD's new "Steamroller" central processor cores and a Radeon HD 9000 series graphics processor in the single-die design. It will be available in products with power draws ranging from 17 watts to 35 watts. Bald Eagle will have some new power management tools and is being billed by AMD as a next-generation heterogenous compute engine built specifically for embedded systems.

Steppe Eagle is also an APU, but AMD appears to be putting it in a new product bucket the company is calling "APU SoCs," which appears to just be shorthand for "low power draw." Indeed, Steppe Eagle parts will draw just 5 watts at the low end of the product line, an improvement on AMD's current lowest-power embedded chips, which actually comes with better performance, according to Iyengar. Steppe Eagle will come in dual-core and quad-core flavors and combines AMD's "Jaguar" CPU cores with its Radeon HD 8000 series GPU.

Finally, there's the most interesting (and most interestingly named) next-gen embedded chip of the bunch — a 64-bit, ARM-based "CPU SoC" code named Hierofalcon. This future chip is the culmination of AMD's blossoming friendship with ARM. When Hierofalcon is released in the second half of 2014, there's a good chance it will be the first product to ship which uses ARM's 64-bit, Cortex-A57 CPU core architecture.

Hierofalcon will come in versions sporting up to eight Cortex-A57 cores and ranging from 15 watts to 30 watts. These chips won't have a GPU, but AMD is marking them down as SoCs because they'll have built-in 10 Gigabit Ethernet.