Subject: General Tech, Processors, Mobile | July 11, 2014 - 04:58 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: x86, VIA, isaiah II, Intel, centaur, arm, amd
There might be a third, x86-compatible processor manufacturer who is looking at the mobile market. Intel has been trying to make headway, including the direct development of Android for the x86 architecture. The company also has a few design wins, mostly with Windows 8.1-based tablets but also the occasional Android-based models. Google is rumored to be preparing the "Nexus 8" tablet with one of Intel's Moorefield SoCs. AMD, the second-largest x86 processor manufacturer, is aiming their Mullins platform at tablets and two-in-ones, but cannot afford to play snowplow, at least not like Intel.
VIA, through their Centaur Technology division, is expected to announce their own x86-based SoC, too. Called Isaiah II, it is rumored to be a quad core, 64-bit processor with a maximum clock rate of 2.0 GHz. Its GPU is currently unknown. VIA sold their stake S3 Graphics to HTC back in 2011, who then became majority shareholder over the GPU company. That said, HTC and VIA are very close companies. The chairwoman of HTC is the founder of VIA Technologies. The current President and CEO of VIA, who has been in that position since 1992, is her husband. I expect that the GPU architecture will be provided by S3, or will somehow be based on their technology. I could be wrong. Both companies will obviously do what they think is best.
It would make sense, though, especially if it benefits HTC with cheap but effective SoCs for Android and "full" Windows (not Windows RT) devices.
Or this announcement could be larger than it would appear. Three years ago, VIA filed for a patent which described a processor that can read both x86 and ARM machine language and translate it into its own, internal microinstructions. The Centaur Isaiah II could reasonably be based on that technology. If so, this processor would be able to support either version of Android. Or, after Intel built up the Android x86 code base, maybe they shelved that initiative (or just got that patent for legal reasons).
But what about Intel? Honestly, I see this being a benefit for the behemoth. Extra x86-based vendors will probably grow the overall market share, compared to ARM, by helping with software support. Even if it is compatible with both ARM and x86, what Intel needs right now is software. They can only write so much of it themselves. It is possible that VIA, being the original netbook processor, could disrupt the PC market with both x86 and ARM compatibility, but I doubt it.
Centaur Technology, the relevant division of VIA, will make their announcement in less than 51 days.
Subject: General Tech, Mobile, Shows and Expos | June 15, 2014 - 01:51 AM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: x86, SteamOS, Steam Machine, Steam Controller, steam, mobile, handheld, E3 14, E3
To be doubly clear, if the title was not explicit enough, this announcement is not made by Valve. This company is called, "SteamBoy Machine team". If not a hoax, this is one of the many Steam Machines which are expected to come out of the SteamOS initiative. Rather than taking the platform to a desktop or home theater PC (HTPC) form-factor, this company wants to target the handheld PC gaming market.
If it comes out, that is a clever use of SteamOS. I can see Big Picture Mode being just as useful on a small screen as it is on a TV, especially with its large font and controller navigation. The teasers suggest that it will use the haptic feedback-based touchpads which Valve are expected to base the Steam Controller on. It will also include a 5-inch touchscreen.
The Escapist got into contact with the team and received a few more specs:
- Quad-Core CPU (x86)
- 4GB RAM
- 32GB built-in storage
Even if this company does not make good on their expectations, companies will now be considering portable SteamOS devices. This is the sort of outside-the-box thinking that Valve was pushing for when they wanted to create an open platform. Each party will struggle to win in their personal goals, yet they can also rely on the crowd (other companies or individuals) to keep up in areas where they do not want an edge.
Philosophy aside, the company is targeting 2015 with a "Standard Edition" supporting WiFi and 3G. It would make sense to have a WiFi-only model, but who knows.
Subject: Editorial, General Tech, Graphics Cards, Processors, Chipsets | June 13, 2014 - 06:45 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: x86, restructure, gpu, arm, APU, amd
According to VR-Zone, AMD has reworked their business, last Thursday, sorting each of their projects into two divisions and moving some executives around. The company is now segmented into the "Enterprise, Embedded, and Semi-Custom Business Group", and the "Computing and Graphics Business Group". The company used to be divided between "Computing Solutions", which handled CPUs, APUs, chipsets, and so forth, "Graphics and Visual Solutions", which is best known for GPUs but also contains console royalties, and "All Other", which was... everything else.
Lisa Su, former general manger of global business, has moved up to Chief Operating Officer (COO), along with other changes.
This restructure makes sense for a couple of reasons. First, it pairs some unprofitable ventures with other, highly profitable ones. AMD's graphics division has been steadily adding profitability to the company while its CPU division has been mostly losing money. Secondly, "All Other" is about a nebulous as a name can get. Instead of having three unbalanced divisions, one of which makes no sense to someone glancing at AMD's quarterly earnings reports, they should now have two, roughly equal segments.
At the very least, it should look better to an uninformed investor. Someone who does not know the company might look at the sheet and assume that, if AMD divested from everything except graphics, that the company would be profitable. If, you know, they did not know that console contracts came into their graphics division because their compute division had x86 APUs, and so forth. This setup is now more aligned to customers, not products.
Subject: General Tech, Systems | January 25, 2014 - 07:42 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: Lenovo, IBM, x86, servers
Lenovo will take (or purchase) the x86 torch away from IBM in the high-end server and mainframe market, too. The deal is worth $2.3 billion of which $2 billion will be cash, the remains will be paid to IBM in stock. IBM walked away from talks with Lenovo last year in a deal that was believed to be similar to this one.
Lenovo, famously, took over IBM's PC business in 2005.
... which is increasingly not IBM.
x86-based servers have been profitable, even for IBM. This is yet another example of a large company with a desire to increase their margins at the expense of overall profits. This is similar to the situation with HP when they considered getting out of consumer devices. Laptops and desktops were still profitable but not as much as, say, an ink cartridge. Sometimes leaving money on the table tells a better story and that is okay. Someone will take it.
Lenovo will also become an authorized reseller of IBM cloud computing and storage solutions (plus some of their software). IBM will continue to operate their server and mainframe businesses based on their own architectures (such as Power and Z/Architecture).
Approximately 7,500 of IBM's current employees will be hired by Lenovo as a part of this agreement. Unfortunately, I do not know how many current employees are affected. 7,500 could be the vast majority of that workforce or only a small fraction of it. Hopefully this deal will not mean too many layoffs, if any at all.
Subject: General Tech, Processors, Mobile | January 21, 2014 - 04:14 AM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: x86, Intel, Android, 64-bit
Given how long it took Intel to release a good 64-bit architecture, dragged ear-first by AMD, it does seem a little odd for them to lead the tablet charge. ARM developers are still focusing on 32-bit architectures and current Windows 8.1 tablets tend to stick with 32-bit because of Connected Standby bugs. Both of these should be cleared up soon.
Also, 64-bit Android tablets should be available this spring based on Bay Trail.
According to Peter Bright of Ars Technica, Android will be first to 64-bit on its x86 build while the ARM variant hovers at 32-bit for a little while longer. It would not surprise me if Intel's software engineers contributed heavily to this development (which is a good thing). I expect NVIDIA to do the same, if necessary, to ensure that Project Denver will launch successfully later this year.
The most interesting part about this is how the PC industry, a symbol of corporate survival of the fittest, typically stomps on siloed competitors but is now facing the ARM industry built on a similar Darwin-based logic. Both embrace openness apart from a few patented instruction sets. Who will win? Well, probably Web Standards, but that is neither here nor there.
Subject: General Tech | July 19, 2013 - 05:23 PM | Tim Verry
Tagged: amd, financial results, graphics and visual solutions, x86
AMD recently released its financial results for the second quarter of 2013. AMD had a decent quarter that demonstrated the positive effects of its ongoing restructuring efforts, but the company is, unfortunately, still operating at a loss.
In Q2 2013, AMD reported revenue of $1.16 billion, a 40% gross margin, operating loss of $29 million, and a net loss of $74 million. It experienced loss per share of $0.10. Total revenue has increased 7% versus last quarter, but is still down 18% YoY (Year over Year).
Within AMD, there are two major groups that bring in revenue: the Computing Solutions group and the recently-renamed Graphics and Visual Solutions group.
The Computing Solutions group is responsible for processors while the Graphics and Visual Solutions group is responsible for all of AMD’s graphics technologies, including GPUs.
The Computing Solutions groups experienced a 12% increase in revenue versus last quarter, and a 20% decrease in revenue versus the same time last year. According to AMD, the increase in revenue is primarily due to “significantly higher” notebook shipments and an increased number of desktop and server shipments. Further, the YoY decrease is the result of lower overall unit shipments and lower processor Average Selling Prices (ASP).
While the processor division is doing better, the Graphics and Visual Solutions group saw revenue decreases versus last quarter and last year. Specifically, revenue fell 5% QoQ and fell 13% YoY. AMD reasons that the Average Selling Price of its GPUs has increased YoY while also falling versus last quarter.
During Q2 2013 (and 2013 in general), AMD announced design wins for all the major gaming consoles and Apple’s upcoming Mac Pro desktop with dual FirePro cards, released a slew of new A-Series and embedded G-Series APUs, unleashed its 5.0GHz FX-9590 Piledriver-based CPU, and launched low power Opteron X processors. AMD's performance in Q2 was the result of its continued focus on restructuring as well as "opportunities in high growth and traditioanl PC businesses" according to CEO Rory Read.
According to the company, its outlook for next quarter is a revenue increase of 22% (+/- 3%), or approximately $1.42 billion.
Subject: General Tech | May 13, 2013 - 10:28 AM | Tim Verry
Tagged: x86, SoC, semi-custom chip, Patent, ip, APU, amd
Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) has an extensive intellectual property (IP) portfolio. The company has a range of products from CPUs and graphics cards to video acceleration hardware. It is also the only other major player to have a license to build chips with the x86 ISA. With the launch of its Semi-Custom Business Unit, AMD plans to take advantage of the engineering experience and patent portfolio to create a new revenue stream. AMD will work with other companies to create customized processors that integrate custom IP cores and technology but use AMD's existing products as a base to cut down on engineering time and R&D costs.
The first such customized chip is the System on a Chip used in Sony's PlayStation 4 gaming console. AMD intends to market its modular SoC technology and custom IP integration services to makers of set top boxes, smart TVs, tablets, PCs, networking hardware, and High Performance Computing applications. AMD argues that using its Semi-Custom Business Unit to create a customized SoC is cheaper and faster to design and produce than a fully-custom design, which makes sense since most of the engineering work is already done. AMD could stand to make quite a bit of extra money here, especially if it can land design wins for governmental and industrial design contracts. Intel's x86 license scarcity may actually benefit AMD here, in fact.
AMD's Semi-Custom Business Unit consists of an engineering team led by AMD Corporate Vice President and General Manager Saeid Moshkelani. I think doing this is a smart move for the x86 underdog, and it will be interesting to see how well the division does for the company's bottom line.
Subject: Processors | August 1, 2012 - 08:38 AM | Josh Walrath
Tagged: x86-64, x86, MIPS, Jim Keller, arm, amd, Alpha
There has been quite a bit of news lately from AMD, and very little of it good. What has perhaps dominated the headlines throughout this past year was the amount of veteran AMD employees who have decided (or were pushed) to seek employment elsewhere. Not much has been said from these departing employees, but Rory Read certainly started things off with a bang by laying off some 10% of the company just months into his tenure.
Now we finally have some good news in terms of employment. AMD has hired a pretty big name in the industry. Not just a big name, but a person who was one of the primary leads on two of AMD’s most successful architectures to date. Jim Keller is coming back to AMD, and at a time where it seems AMD needs some veteran leadership who is very in touch with not just the industry, but CPU architecture design.
Jim was a veteran of DEC and worked on some of the fastest Alpha processors of the time. Much could be written about DEC and how they let what could have been one of the most important and profitable architectures in computing history sit essentially on the back burner while they focused on seemingly dinosaur age computing. After the Alpha was sold off and DEC sold away, Jim found his way to AMD and played a very important role at that company.
The first product was helping to launch the K7, and worked primarily with system engineering. The vast majority of design work for the K7 was finished by the time he signed on, but he apparently worked quite a bit on integrating it into the new socket architecture that was derived from the DEC Alpha. Where Jim really earned his keep was in co-authoring the x86-64 specification and being lead architect on the AMD K8 series of processors. While he left in 1999, the mark he left on AMD is essentially indelible.
After AMD he joined Sibyte (Broadcom) and was lead architect on a series of MIPS processors used in networking devices. This lasted until 2003 and he again left the company seemingly more prosperous than when he began.
PA-Semi was the next stop and he worked again primarily on networking specific SOCs utilizing the PowerPC architecture. So far, by counting fingers, Jim has worked on five major ISAs (Alpha, x86, x86-64, MIPS, and PowerPC). These chips were able to power networking devices with 10 Gb throughput. PA-Semi was then purchased by Apple in 2007/2008.
At Apple Jim was now Director of Platform Architecture and worked with yet another major ISA; ARM. Jim worked to develop several major and successful products with the A4 and A5 processors that have powered the latest iPhone and iPad products from the Cupertino giant. To say that this individual has had his fingers in some very important pies is an understatement.
Jim now rejoins AMD as CVP and Chief Architect of CPU Cores. He will report directly to Mark Papermaster. His primary job is to improve execution efficiency and consistency, as well as implement next generation features into future CPU cores which will keep AMD competitive with not only Intel, but other rising competitors in the low power space. This is finally some good news for AMD as they are actually adding talent rather than losing it. While Jim may not be able to turn the company around overnight, he does look to be an important piece of the puzzle with a huge amount of experience and knowhow with multiple CPU ISA. If there is anyone that can tackle the challenges in front of AMD in the face of a changing world, this might be the guy. So far he has had a positive impact in every stop he has made, and perhaps this could prove to be the pinnacle of his career. Or it could be where his career goes to die. It is hard to say, but I do think that AMD made a good hire with Jim.
Introduction, Low-Power Computing Was Never Enjoyable
It was nearly five years ago that ASUS announced the first Eee PC model at Computex. That October the first production version of what would to be called a netbook, the ASUS Eee PC 4G, was released. The press latched on to the little Eee PC, making it the new darling of the computer industry. It was small, it was inexpensive, and it was unlike anything on the market.
Even so, the original Eee PC was a bit of a dead end. It used an Intel Celeron processor that was not suited for the application. It consumed too much power and took up a significant portion of the netbook’s production cost. If Intel’s Celeron had remained the only option for netbooks they probably would not have made the leap from press darling to mainstream consumer device.
It turned out that Intel (perhaps unintentionally) had the solution – Atom. Originally built with hopes that it might power “mobile Internet devices” it proved to be the netbook’s savior. It allowed vendors to squeeze out cheap netbooks with Windows and a proper hard drive.
At the time, Atom and the netbook seemed promising. Sales were great – consumers loved the cute, pint-sized, affordable computers. In 2009 netbook sales jumped by over 160% quarter-over-quarter while laptops staggered along with single-digit growth. The buzz quickly jumped to other products, spawning nettops, media centers and low-power all-in-one-PCs. There seemed to be nothing an Atom powered computer could not do.
Fast forward. Earlier this year, PC World ran an article asking if netbooks are dead. U.S. sales peaked in the first quarter of 2010 and have been nose-diving since then, and while some interest remains in the other markets, only central Europe and Latin America have held steady. It appears the star that burned brightest has indeed burned the quickest.
Subject: Mobile | January 11, 2012 - 01:46 AM | Matt Smith
Tagged: x86, smartphone, Intel, CES, Android
What do you do if you’re a big company with lots of money, but are having trouble convincing manufacturers to adopt your technology in their products because your competitors are already established in the market?
You build the product yourself.
That’s what Intel has done with its new smartphone reference platform. Revealed at the company’s keynote by CEO Paul Otellini, the reference platform is a fully functional smartphone running an x86 port of Android. It was demonstrated at the keynote and used to play games, watch video and output video to a monitor via HDMI.
Intel has been down this many times before, of course, but never had much success. That was before a fully functional reference platform was made available, however. The device shown today could potentially be put on store shelves as-is (after a few more months of testing, perhaps). It is thin, it is light, it has a 4-inch display with a resolution of 1024x600 and it runs Android. This is no thick and bulky test mule – it’s a functional example that can be used by vendors as a starting point so they don’t have to build a device from the ground up.
Such a strategy can help get Intel’s foot in the door, and in fact already has. After showing the reference design, Otellini announced a multi-year “strategic partnership” with Motorola. If things go as planned, Motorola should be shipping out phones with Intel processors inside them in the second half of this year.
Lenovo showed another phone even closer to release. Known as the Lenovo K800, it should be out within months. There’s just one problem (for us) – it’s China only.
Inside the reference design is an Intel Atom Z2460 running at up to 1.6 GHz. This is not an Atom in brand name only - the architecture is basically the same as any other Intel Atom processor. Unlike almost every other modern smartphone processor, this is a single-core part (for now).
Though down a core to the competition, Intel suggested that the reference design is generally quicker than all current smartphones. Some early CPU benchmarks from Anandtech seem to back up that assertion. However, the graphics component isn’t up to par with today’s best, a fact that became evident when Intel showed a game demo using the reference device. It looked okay, but was clearly inferior to games running on Tegra 3.
While the hardware seems to be coming together, software remains a potential roadblock. Intel showed their smartphone running Android 2.3 ported for x86. Because of how Android handles code, most Android apps are compatible despite the change in processor architecture.
Just one problem – some apps make specific references in their code to ARM features, and these apps will not function on x86. Intel is attempting to compensate for that using on-the-fly ARM to x86 code conversion. It’s hard to judge how well that works without testing it first-hand, but at least Intel has a plan for dealing with the issue.
My excitement about this announcement is tempered by the lack of available products. Timing is critical. The reference hardware might be quicker than today’s most popular smartphones, but new designs are constantly emerging, each quicker than the last. Releasing this product six months from now may result in a competitive product – but a delay forcing it into the holiday season could yet again spoil Intel’s dreams of smartphone dominance.
But even if Intel’s partners don’t translate this reference platform into products quickly, it at least shows that Intel is headed in the right direction. ARM is entrenched, but Intel has the resources and the engineers required to provide serious competition. CES 2013 could end up being the conference where x86 and ARM devices go toe-to-toe.
PC Perspective's CES 2012 coverage is sponsored by MSI Computer.
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