Apparently, Advanced Micro Devices (NYSE:AMD) thought we needed another definition of "fusion." Say hello to the ultimate payoff of the chip designer's much-maligned ATI acquisition in 2006: a wholesale rebranding campaign for the entire company.

AMD's corporate logo now includes a catchy "The future is fusion" blurb. The company explains: "It's where customer needs, dreams, and desires bond with our own passion for engineering. [...] The future is Fusion. And it's only from AMD."

The chipmaker could certainly use some polish on its public image, which has taken several shots to the gut recently. Intel (NASDAQ:INTC) has owned the high-performance chip market since it released the Core 2 product line, relegating AMD to the "value" spot rather than the "top dawg with fat margins" throne. The $5.4 billion ATI acquisition hasn't paid dividends yet, and AMD shares have plummeted from the lower $20s at the time of the ATI deal to $5.50 as I write this.

What is this "Fusion" business about?
In its most obvious sense, Fusion weds AMD's CPU technology to ATI's image-processing expertise. CPUs with integrated graphics cores are expected to launch next year, and the same approach should allow AMD to mix in other specialized chip architectures, such as physics processors, right in the processor itself.

That's not a big surprise after the recent explosion of multi-core processors, but it does take some extra work to make a bunch of different cores work together as efficiently as possible. The payoff could be huge, with improved overall performance, simpler and more compact system architectures, and the ability to mix and match technologies to fill the specific needs of niche markets like high-performance graphics, scientific computing, or plain old gaming.

This is where ATI's rubber meets the road. It's time to prove that the company was worth all those billions of dollars.

But wait -- there's more!
Beyond that obvious definition, Fusion is also "AMD's working philosophy" now, and it "marries innovation with collaboration" to "change the way we live, work and play." From that point of view, I think that AMD could have hired a PR firm to come up with a better name. (I doubt it ever did.)

If you say "Fusion!" in a crowd of technophiles today, they'll think I'm talking about any one of several completely different things:

  • Oracle (NASDAQ:ORCL) Fusion is a middleware application suite that includes products from acquired businesses like JD Edwards, BEA Systems, Siebel, Peoplesoft, and many more.
  • VMware (NYSE:VMW) Fusion is a virtual machine platform that runs on Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) Mac systems.
  • Compiz Fusion is an advanced window manager for Linux systems, full of spiffy 3D effects.
  • (NASDAQ:WWWW) released NetObjects Fusion 11 this summer, updating one of the oldest Web design tools to current standards and trends.
  • Asian fusion cuisine brings together delicacies from places like India, Japan, Mongolia, and Vietnam on one plate for a deliciously diverse culinary adventure. Yum!

There's plenty more, but you get my drift. "Fusion" may be a trendy choice, but it isn't a particularly original name for a strategy of blending disparate elements into a coherent(-ish) product offering. When you rebrand a whole company like this, you're clearly aiming to stand out from the competition, not blend into it. This particular effort is simply muddling the issue.

AMD would be better off taking a page from the Altria (NYSE:MO) playbook -- that name doesn't really mean anything, but it is a unique moniker that sets the company apart from both its rivals and a badly tar-stained history.

"It's only from AMD." Hardly. I applaud the company's effort, but lament its execution. Let's hope that this chipmaker's pudding is chock full of proof.

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