"AMD Fusion Era Begins," heralded a press release from Advanced Micro Devices (NYSE: AMD ) this week. Excuse the chip designer if it sounds a little bombastic, ushering in a new era all by itself, but AMD has been working on this for half a decade. I think it's okay to get a bit excited when the fruits of all that labor finally roll off the assembly line.
According to AMD, the Fusion architecture that was born from the ATI acquisition way back in 2006 will not only bring "personal supercomputing" into our daily lives, but also do so with all-day battery power. Moreover, everything should happen at official high-definition resolutions without a hiccup, thanks to the platform's graphical ancestry.
The high-performance version of these power-sipping chips held up for nearly 11 hours under what AMD calls "all-day" use in the company's own testing, and more than four hours under constant load from the 3DMark '06 benchmark. The ultra-low-power model stretched these numbers to 12 and 6 hours, respectively.
Independent testing shows that AMD's new low-power chips sport serviceable performance for everyday computing, but crush all comers from Intel (Nasdaq: INTC ) and NVIDIA (Nasdaq: NVDA ) in the power-efficient segment of the market when you turn to high-def video screening or 3-D video games.
These are the low-power chips available today, to be followed somewhere around mid-year by full-fledged processing powerhouses not overly concerned about saving electrons. So the battle is starting on the low end and in the mobile sector, then escalating into mainstream systems later on. Server chips are presumably on the way, too, and should benefit more than most from the purported "supercomputing" features, but we'll learn more about that roadmap later.
None of these new number-crunching powers will mean much without software support. AMD is on the ball with this one, getting Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT ) to optimize both the Internet Explorer browser and Windows in general for the new platform. Adobe Systems (Nasdaq: ADBE ) has also put together a Fusion-aware version of its Flash platform, which bodes well for online video performance in AMD-powered ultraportables. Also, a plethora of leading game developers are on board.
Retail-ready systems featuring Fusion chips are about to hit store shelves and review outlets. Exultant press releases are one thing; real-world results are another. We'll know soon enough whether AMD just gained a mighty weapon in the processor wars -- or if Intel stole the show right back with those new Sandy Bridge doodads.