News Analysis

IDF2010: New chips make a meal out of graphics

Jenny Williams

Following Intel's Developer Forum (IDF) in San Francisco, Intel and AMD have both unveiled products that combine graphics and computational processing on a single die to target. Experts predict the new chipsets could lead to lowe-cost PCs with improved battery life.

Intel launched its second-generation Intel Core processor family, code-named Sandy Bridge, at the IDF San Francisco. Meanwhile, AMD announced its Fusion Accelerated Processing Unit (APU) chipset, code-named Zacate, comparing its new integrated graphic capabilities and GPU-enabled web browsing to its rival, Intel's processor-based notebooks. But who offers the best chipset to improve PC performance for businesses?

"This is the first generation of graphics chips alongside the CPU," says Andrew Buss, analyst at Freeform Dynamics. "It's a game of cat and mouse. Intel has competition on its hands from AMD. There's been a lot of leap-frog in the last decade."

Graphics for business

Buss says both companies have had to address business users who were previously neglected. "There's been a realisation that business PCs are used for personal stuff. They're looking seriously at the need to be able to run the latest HD video even on a business machine for employees to work flexibly and productively."

The new chipsets allows businesses to get greater PC performance for the same money, lowering the cost of ownership and increasing reliability. "The more they decrease the size of the chip, the more they decrease power consumption, which is a big benefit," says Buss.

As well as extending chip performance and battery life, Intel's new Sandy Bridge chips are based on Intel's "visibly smart" micro-architecture. A built-in processor graphics engine shares cache and memory with the processor's core to increase computing and graphics performance while maintaining energy efficiency.

Intel's IDF also saw the launch of 'Tunnel Creek' a family of Atom processors for embedded applications in smart grid devices, car entertainment systems and IP media phones. The company previewed its reconfigurable Atom processor, code-named 'Stellarton', which combines its E600 processor with an Altera FPGA to enable developers to quickly change requirements.

"Intel has moved a lot of stuff into its chipset that was previously separated, such as WiFi integration. Integrated graphics was seen as a priority for Intel," adds Buss. "Intel is raising its game in graphics. It's good, but not excellent."

"Our vision is to create a continuum of personal computing that provides consistency and interoperability across all internet-connected devices in the home, car, office or in your pocket," said Intel's CEO, Paul Otellini in a keynote at IDF.

AMD demonstrated its Fusion Accelerated Processing Unit (APU) chipset, code-named Zacate, to improve graphic capabilities and GPU-enabled web browsing on lower-cost PCs.

AMD said its new dual-core, 18-watt TDP processor is aimed at notebooks and desktops, including HD streaming, DirectX 11-capable GPU and GPU-enabled web browsing.

Experts are certain AMD's new offering will challenge Intel and Nvidia. "Fusion presents an opportunity for AMD to challenge the dominance of Intel in CPUs and Nvidia in graphics processors, especially in the market for portable device processors," said a spokesman from analyst firm, Trefis, in a blog post.

Chipset stand-off

Despite the competition between Intel and AMD, neither have managed to dent one another's market-share for the second quarter of 2010. Between 2009 and 2010, Intel and AMD maintained its market positions, with Intel gaining 0.1 points of share from the 80.3% it held in the first quarter of 2010 and AMD up 0.04 points from 11.5%, according to research firm, iSuppli.

Matthew Wilkins, principal analyst at iSuppli, says the static market share situation shows how both companies are "competing furiously for every tenth point of market share" due to rapid growth and fast technological developments.

"As circumstances continue to evolve in the second half of 2010, expect these two companies to maintain their epic competitive struggle," adds Wilkins.

While market share stalemate ensues between Intel and AMD, AMD's graphics expertise – supported by acquired graphics chipset company, ATI – combined with its new mobility may see market positions significantly shift for the first time in recent months.

The competition between AMD and Intel is good news for businesses. As both fight to increase market share with its graphics-enabled CPU chipsets, its new products are driving better price/performance for business users.

Both Intel's and AMD's new chipsets will be available in early 2011.

Table: courtesy of iSuppli:

Global microprocessor revenue          
Supplier Q2 2010 market share Q1 2010 market share Q2 2009 market share Q2 2010 sequential change Q2 2010 year-over-year change
Intel 80.40% 80.30% 80.70% 0.10% -0.30%
AMD 11.52% 11.70% 11.48% -0.20% 0.00%
Others 8.10% 8.00% 7.80% 0.10% 0.30%


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