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Tag Archives: AMD

The Future’s Full Of Holes

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Optochip

If you’re like most of the population, you only upgrade your computer every couple of years, if that. I was recently surprised (and, I’ve got to admit, more than a little pleased) to discover that the computer shop closest to home still sold old-style PS/2 style keyboards. Sure, they were only two bucks a pop, which suggests they’re not exactly a high-demand item. Still, USB supplanted PS/2 as a connection methodology more than a decade ago, and their retail presence does suggest that most of us are getting a lot of wear and tear out of our expensive IT purchases. That’s a good thing, both from a value for money and environmental standpoint.

One of the benefits that you get when upgrading if you’ve held onto your current computer for any decent length of time is the jump in system and processor speeds that will have happened while you were getting a useful service life out of your old PC. It’s not a new idea, but it’s still true today; when buying new IT equipment it pays to buy at the top of the speed curve relative to your budget. You might not need that new speed today, but it’ll ensure that your purchase remains current for quite a bit longer as the applications of tomorrow are still well suited to the speeds your system can maintain. Conversely, buying as cheap as possible will get you yesterday’s technology, and while you may be able to run things today, you may find some of tomorrow’s applications beyond the grunt of a simple system. It’s a fine balancing act — it’s certainly possible to spend too much on a system with components you won’t use as well.

So what’s current and upcoming in the PC world, anyway? On Intel’s schedule for the very near future are its next generation “Ivy Bridge” processors; these feature improved onboard graphics, USB 3.0 support, better power management — and naturally they’re claimed to be faster. AMD’s continuing on its path of “Fusion” processors — systems where the processor has a full DirectX11-compatible graphics processor built in, making them highly competitive with Intel’s processor parts, although in pure market terms Intel’s still the big shark to AMD’s minnow. Looking even further forward into the types of optical chips that high end servers use, IBM’s just revealed a technology it’s calling “Holey Octochips” — and that’s not just a prototype name that somebody drew out of a hat. IBM’s Holey design quite literally takes a chip wafer and blasts forty-eight holes into it so that laser light can pass through it; IBM’s claim is that this gives the eventual chip data processing capabilities of up to one trillion bits per second. Fast, in layman’s terms. You won’t be using a holey octochip on this or even next year’s PCs — it’s still a product pitched for high-end supercomputing, and IBM’s hoping to licence the design out to other companies — but within the next five to ten years, it’s entirely possible we could all be flinging bits around at speeds that are all but unimaginable right now.


AMD’s Fusion of speed and budget processing

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You may not care — or even know — what make of processor you’ve got inside your computer. The chances are reasonably high it’s an Intel part; depending on whose figures you read, somewhere around eighty percent of all processors sold are Intel processors. Still, that leaves twenty percent of the market running something else, and in most cases, that’s a processor from AMD, or Advanced Micro Devices, if you wish to be formal.

AMD’s latest processor foray couldn’t be more different to the recently announced (and swiftly withdrawn) Intel “Sandy Bridge” processors. Sandy Bridge is (first and foremost) pitching at the high-end, high-specification market with some very nice processors if you’ve got the money. At the time of writing, however, Intel was scrambling to correct a problem with the accompanying chipset to Sandy Bridge, as the chipset (codenamed “Cougar Bridge”) had potential flaws in how it talked to SATA devices (hard disk drives and optical drives such as DVD or Blu-Ray) that could cause problems over time. If you bought one of the first Sandy Bridge PCs or laptops, you may well have issues, but at this stage it’s unclear if every system will have problems. For the moment, though, Sandy Bridge is off the market.

In any case, AMD’s solution to go head to head with high performance Sandy Bridge, is, simply put, not to do so at all. Instead, AMD’s latest “Fusion” processors come with a sparkly new marketing term and an initial pitch to the entry-level, long battery life, thin and light market. AMD refers to the Fusion processors not as CPUs (Central Processing Units) but as APUs (Acccelerated Processing Units), because they combine a CPU and reasonably high end graphics processor on the same chip. Intel does do that type of arrangement, but to date the integrated graphics that Intel’s offered hasn’t been particularly exciting stuff. AMD’s Fusion APUs, put up against the Atom processors that Intel supplies for many Netbooks make for interesting comparison, with AMD claiming eleven times the graphics performance, although things get murkier if you’re comparing some Core i3/i5 notebook systems to Fusion.

There will be a high-end version of Fusion, codenamed “Llano” available later in the year, but for now, the focus is on slim systems, netbook competitors and entry level priced systems. AMD has taken Intel on over the years in the value for money space, and it’s a fight that ultimately benefits us, the consumers, even if you don’t buy a Fusion PC. Competition breeds competitive pricing, and who doesn’t want faster and cheaper computing?


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