Intel and AMD are off to the races again. This time it's about making PCs not just faster, but more versatile.
The two longstanding PC chip rivals seem to agree, roughly, on one thing: the need to meld the two key PC chips, the central and graphics processing units, into one processor. But they both bring different strengths to achieve that end.
Why combine chips? Put simply, it takes less energy to move electrons across a chip than to move those same electrons between two chips, so this saves energy, resulting in better battery life for laptops. A point made by Insight 64 principal analyst Nathan Brookwood in a white paper written for AMD, but which, in some fundamental respects, applies equally to Intel.
And CPUs and GPUs are suited to different kinds of computing. CPUs can handle a broad array of tasks, while GPUs are more specialized but much faster at certain types of operations. Future heterogeneous chips could find photos and videos in your library that contain particular faces or places. Or recognize your face when you log in. In short, putting both capabilities on one piece of silicon creates a brainier chip with more processing brawn.
The question, of course, is which company will deliver the goods and drive cutting-edge PC--particularly laptop--designs in 2011? AMD claims that because it is also a supplier of GPUs, via its ATI graphics chip unit, its products are more forward-looking because of the increased emphasis on graphics that tap into key multimedia technologies like Microsoft's DirectX and Apple's OpenCL.
"Intel is understandably more CPU centric. That's Intel's view," said John Taylor, director of marketing for Fusion at AMD. "We're a provider (via ATI) of graphics chips. We're incorporating world-class GPU intellectual property into a new type of design. We look at the GPU in a consumer notebook as a very efficient compute engine as well as all of the wonderful 2D and 3D graphics capabilities," Taylor said, adding that Intel is just "sprinkling" low-level graphics on its CPUs. … Read more