Wednesday, February 9, 2011

AMD G-Series Brings APUs to the x86 Embedded Market

The AMD Embedded G-Series platform being introduced tonight is the world's first Accelerated Processing Unit (APU) for embedded systems. AMD has had quite a bit of history of supporting x86 based embedded systems. Starting with the Geode processor in 2003 (obtained from National Semiconductors and used in the OLPC project), AMD went on to introduce AMD64 technology into the embedded markets with the AMD Opteron processors in 2005. In 2007, the addition of graphics and other chipset options by AMD enabled comprehensive embedded solutions. In 2009, AMD introduced BGA (Ball Grid Array) packaging to meet customer demand.
At CES 2011, they gave us a sneak peek into the Embedded G-Series platform based on Brazos. AMD has increased performance and features in every generation while bringing down the power, area and price barriers for x86 in the embedded market.
The embedded market space is dominated by SoCs based on RISC processors such as ARM and MIPS. For most power sensitive embedded applications, PowerPC and x86 based solutions do not make the cut. x86, in particular, has been the dark horse due to the excessive power consumption for systems based on that architecture. Process shrinks have helped lower the power consumption numbers. However, we are still a few nodes away from when the x86 based solutions can really compete with RISC based solutions on the power front.
In the meantime, solutions like what we are seeing from AMD today integrate premium graphics capabilities within power envelops similar to what x86 used to consume in the previous generation—so you get CPU+GPU instead of just a CPU. RISC based embedded solutions may still be winning on the power front; however, for applications where slightly higher power consumption is not a concern, the x86 threat from the AMD embedded G-Series platform can become a cause for concern. MIPS is usually popular in such applications (set top boxes, digital signage etc.) and they will be facing credible opposition with AMD's integrated graphics capabilities.

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