Even though Advanced Micro Devices (NASDAQ:AMD) is shifting away from the enthusiast market, investors should be excited after its CES 2014 press conference where the company officially unveiled its next-generation APU, the Kaveri. It's not only AMD's latest in their line of APUs, it's also sporting new technology that the company, as well as its backers, are hoping will cause a paradigm shift in computing.
What's under Kaveri's hood?
The Kaveri is AMD's most advanced APU yet, featuring the latest Steamroller CPU core that comes equipped with what AMD describes as "12 compute cores," a new term the company coined to describe four CPU cores of the Steamroller CPU, combined with eight Radeon R7 GPU cores.
Together, AMD is promising a 50% boost in GPU performance and up to 20% better x86 IPC performance compared to its previous high-end line of APUs. It will also come equipped with AMD's TrueAudio Technology. Most importantly, the Kaveri is the first consumer chipset to employ what AMD has been relentlessly researching for over a decade, a Heterogeneous System Architecture.
HAS and AMD's paradigm shift
Historically, CPUs and GPUs have been designed as separate units. As it becomes increasingly more common for the two to share die space, AMD has (for the last 10 years) been researching a more efficient method for the two to communicate. With HSA, fully unified coherent memory is seamlessly shared between the CPU and GPU without the need of a bus, thus removing the bottleneck involved with constantly moving large amounts of data between the two, which is advantageous for APUs, or any heterogeneous chip, moving forward.
AMD offered a slide that demonstrates the benefits better than any technical jargon can. Without HSA acceleration, the system performed the task in 0.12 seconds while, when turned off, it took 0.99 seconds, a gain of over 8x. It's clear why AMD is hoping the technology will cause a shift. Unfortunately, the "acceleration off" part sets off the alarms.
The shift might have to wait
"Compute core" is more than a marketing buzz word. As Anandtech describes, the 12 compute cores are each fully programmable, capable of running at least one process independently within its own virtual memory space. In other words, for developers to take advantage of HSA, they will need to specifically code software to support it.
With worldwide PC shipments already having fallen for the sixth consecutive quarter with no signs of stopping, it might be a tough sell to convince developers to adapt software to HSA. With Kaveri being the first chip to utilize the technology, it will likely be years before HSA-equipped processors have any sizable market share. Luckily, AMD isn't alone in wanting to push HSA so the next era of computing innovation can begin.
The HSA Foundation
AMD, ARM, Imagination Technologies, MediaTek, Qualcomm, Samsung, and Texas Instruments are all initial founding members of the HSA Foundation. Together, they are working to define and promote an open standard to heterogeneous computing that will provide a common hardware specification and broad support ecosystem, which would make it easier for software developers to take advantage of the technology. Given the impressive list of initial founding members for the HSA Foundation, and with AMD leading the pack, there are many reasons for investors to be excited.
What does this mean for investors?
Today, the market for heterogeneous chips is rapidly expanding, with the market currently estimated to be worth more than $55.5 billion. This is not surprising, given that heterogeneous chip sets can be found in smartphones, tablets, home consoles, and ultra-thin notebooks, as well as supercomputers and cloud computing.
With AMD ahead of the pack, this is great news for investors. After four straight quarters of poor earnings, AMD recently beat earning targets, resulting in a return to profitability for the third fiscal quarter. AMD posted revenue of $1.46 billion, a 15% percent increase year-over-year, and net income of $48 million.
This was driven in large part by the company's diversification strategy, starting with the success of its graphics and visual solutions division, which is responsible for developing semi-custom chips. With the revenue from the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One starting to kick in, GVS's revenue increased by 110% sequentially and 96% year-over-year. Now that HSA is starting to be incorporated into AMD's future chipset designs, this will continue to put AMD ahead of its competitors in winning future deals to design semi-custom chipsets.
With the likes of Texas Instruments, Samsung and ARM Holdings backing AMD's design for heterogeneous chips, the long-run is starting to look good for AMD, especially since the applications for HSA go well beyond just the PC market. It is the diversification strategy that lead to a return to profitability for AMD.
AMD's Kaveri is set to release on January 14, with the launch of its flagship models, the A10-7850K and A10-7700K.