TG Daily interview: AMD imagines 16 graphics cores for CPUs

  • TG Daily caught up with Rick Bergman, senior vice president, PC business unit, for AMD’s ATI Technologies. He shared his thoughts about ATI under the new corporate umbrella of AMD and shed more light on the six-month delay of ATI’s latest-and-greatest graphics processor, the Radeon HD 2000 processor series.

    We met with Bergman during AMD/ATI’s R600 embargoed pre-launch briefing last month in Tunis, Tunisia. More than 150 journalists attended the event, comprising two days filled with technology workshops, the results of which you can read on graphics cards review sites today.

    With several former ATI executives on executives, we welcomed the opportunity to briefly chat about AMD’s new graphics unit and find out more about ATI’s future technologies and direction as a business unit, as well as the reason for the delay of the R600.

    Rick Bergman has been responsible for ATI’s marketing and desktop products business worldwide for several years. Bergman joined ATI in 2001 from what was then SonicBlue’s S3 Graphics, where he was chief operating officer.

    TG Daily: Let’s get right to it. The R600 arrives about six months late. What is the story behind this delay?

    Rick Bergman: There are a couple of reasons. The first reason is that there were design issues that needed to be resolved. And then, later, we decided to retarget the product at a very attractive price point. We had a higher price point board coming down the line that involved a lot more cost around the bill of materials, memory devices and so on. And we wondered whether or not that was what the market was really looking for. So, we decided to introduce a $399 price point [for a high-end card] with a brand new technology.

    This is a 700-million transistor chip, so as we debugged it, with the cache structures, DX10, the new architecture and so on, it just took us a little longer to iron it out this time.

    AMD's Radeon R600 card 

    TG Daily: While high-end graphics are very attractive in terms of margins, they do not represent the majority of the market. So, with a more general perspective, how do you expect will the business model change in regard to discrete graphics vs. integrated graphics? Will the best graphics cards continue to be geared for desktops?

    Rick Bergman: I don’t that changing per se. [With laptops], people will still want to run them on batteries, and you obviously have to move a lot of air and cooling solutions in there [for high-end graphics processors], so conversely over the course of this year, you are going to see more water cooling for desktops. It is always easier to innovate when you don’t have those constraints. What you will see in three to five years is a blurring of what a CPU and GPU is. Even Intel, is giving presentations about how CPUs and GPUs are coming to a battle.

    TG Daily: But, at least for now, ATI can offer AMD graphics processor technology that Intel cannot match.

    Rick Bergman: The integrated solutions from our competitor, for example, have always been compromised, both in graphics and video. Now it is up to AMD to decide how far you want to integrate it, at what level and what do the customers and different segments want. There is a range of different solutions.

    TG Daily: How advanced can integrated graphics be versus discrete graphics? How far up the performance ladder can integrated graphics go?

    Rick Bergman:
    If you look at Fusion, the immediate thing you can imagine is squashing together a mainstream CPU with a mainstream GPU, and so on. But several years out from now, you could imagine just a CPU with 16 graphics cores, like an R600 geared for someone who might want a gaming notebook, for example. That might be the perfect substantiation of that.

    TG Daily: Could we see in three to five years mainstream graphics card technologies showing up as integrated graphics?

    Rick Bergman: That’s possible. The market for discrete graphics will always be there. [We] have talked about the memory bandwidth that you need, for example. [The addition of graphics cores to a CPU die] is an implementation of what we would do to go head-to-head with the other guys. In terms of pure graphics, there are certain things with the CPU that AMD is very good at, such as in the power area and the custom logic area.

    TG Daily: We heard a lot of the advantages that ATI provides to AMD and not so much what AMD can offer ATI. What is in it for you? How close are you to be able to be sharing manufacturing technologies?

    Rick Bergman:
    We use TSMC [for our bulk production] and the R&D impact, as you can imagine for this launch, will not be immediate. We were developing [technologies] long before the merger last year. Some of the benefits that you will see are in marketing that and in the channel. There is a closer cooperation with customers. For example, we would never meet with a CEO of an HP or a Dell. It is now a regularly quarterly meeting [with  CEOs]. We are going to get some of our key messages [better communicated]. Now we have quarterly meetings with Michael Dell.

    And obviously, you are going to see offering of a complete solution for customers: the chipset, CPU and graphics. Eventually, you will see some technology advantages as well.

    TG Daily: There is a lot of buzz in the mobile market today. More than one third of all computers sold today are notebooks. As mobile applications become more important, how do you see the dynamics of the graphics market changing?

    Rick Bergman: Obviously the market has shifted dramatically over to notebooks. There will be a crossover in 2009. But still, if you are a gamer, you will still want desktop chassis’ and so on.

    TG Daily:
    As notebooks become more important, will we soon start seeing a graphics card distribution model for notebooks?

    Rick Bergman:
    Now you don’t have the ease of upgradeability that you have with desktops. So now, we are looking at some ways to find solutions for that as well….Check back with us at Computex.