Monterey (CA) – AMD is getting more aggressive in discussing technologies that are cooking in the company’s labs. What we learned today is that Agena, the firm’s upcoming desktop quad-core processor in fact is alive and kicking and stream processing may very well reach beyond the enterprise application market and finally enable high-powered consumer applications the IT industry promised ten years ago.
AMD is sailing through rough seas these days and there wasn’t much positive news we were able to report about the company lately. However, just in a time when you would expect it the least, AMD is shifting gears and adjust its approach to provide information about technologies that are on the market already, products that will be introduced in the near term and products that are scheduled to be introduced in a few years down the road.
Among the product demos that AMD brought along, especially two products stood out: First, the company showed off the Agena FX quad-core processor, running in tandem with ATI R600 graphics cards as well as DDR2-1066 memory in two test systems. Agena FX is the desktop version of the “Barcelona” Opteron quad-core processor and is scheduled to be launched sometime after Barcelona, which apparently is still on track for a mid-2007 introduction.
AMD had two systems on display, a single-socket “Hammerhead” quad-core Agena FX system as well as a “Wahoo” dual-socket eight-core system, which extends AMD’s dual-socket enthusiast system approach. Details about Agena FX, which is rumored to launch with clock speeds up to 2.9 GHz, were not disclosed and AMD avoided showing any benchmark performance numbers. However, the eight-core system was able to convert 720p video from one format to another (the company declined to comment on file formats) in real time – while maxing out all eight cores at the same time.
Somewhat unexpected was a demonstration of AMD’s stream processor – basically an adjusted graphics processor. Stream processing demos so far focused on distributed computing or scientific applications. But if AMD has its way, the good old graphics processor may be used as a “general purpose” engine also in consumer software. Two demos were on display, one showcasing rendering, movement recognition and physics, and the other face recognition. Both applications were clearly in an early stage, but they did show off the advantage of a GPU that can take one massively parallel tasks and bring applications such as face and much more reliable voice recognition one step closer to reality.
The first steps into this direction, to which AMD refers to as “accelerated computing” will happen with the release of the “Fusion” processor, which is planned to surface in 2009. While AMD considers the GPU integration in Fusion as a solution that mainly targets mainstream notebooks and offers benefits in terms of power efficiency, production cost and some performance advantages such as reduced latencies, the company hopes that the GPU part evolves into a “general purpose” processing engine over time: By 2012, the company said, software code could be optimized and the potential of a heterogeneous CPU/GPU could be “exploited”.