Dec 22, 2010 — by: Karl Johnson
Categories: News, Predictions, Rumors

Could Apple switch to AMD processors as they move the Graphics Processors Unit (GPU) into the Central Processor Unit (CPU)? Historically, GPUs have always been on a card at the end of a bus inside your computer. That may start to change as both AMD and Intel are bringing their GPUs into the Central Processor Unit (CPU). AMD could have the edge in this new battle with the expertise they received from the purchase of ATI.

Intel introduced the iSeries processors this year that are based on the Nehalem microarchitecture. These i3, i5, and i7 processors are big, fast and expensive, which is both a positive and a negative. Intel has gone after the high market with these chips, but they have left an opening for AMD in the middle and low segments. This kept AMD in the game even though Intel still commands an 80% global market-share. Intel chips are faster, but AMD offers a better value for the price.

Next year, Intel will come out with their Sandy bridge microarchitecture as the successor to Nehalem. With this new chip, Intel will include an integrated graphics core on the same die as the CPU. They are going after both the high and low market segments with separate lines. The weakness for Intel has always been their graphics chips, which have been poor at best. This gave rise to both nVidia and ATI among others to create discreet GPUs. This new graphics core is supposed to be better than the past, but is it good enough compete with AMD's ATI?

To create those realistic graphics found in games, you need a lot of parallel performance. The GPU has continued to grow at a faster rate than the CPU as clock speed improvement has slowed down. GPU developers have been improving parallel computing over the years and are in a much better position than the CPU is at adding more cores. This unit is now being used for more than just displaying graphics. OpenCL (Open Computing Language) has been developed by Apple to give applications access to the GPU for non-graphics computing. Using the GPU has been shown to speed up some data intensive tasks like video encoding as much as 100 times. Some even say the CPU could be absorbed into the GPU instead of the other way around. Price and GPU performance could put Intel at a disadvantage.

AMD is also releasing their new microarchitecture next year called Fusion. This will bring the GPU and CPU together into what they call an accelerated processing unit (APU). Bringing the GPU into the CPU will not only help graphics performance, but also will improve data intensive tasks with OpenCL. Adding more GPU cores than CPU cores to the main processor will be AMD's big advantage. At first, Intel was not going to support OpenCL, but later changed it mind. Bringing these GPUs into the CPU will be a key strength for AMD since they own ATI. Add AMD's value based chips and they could be very competitive with Intel in the near future, with an opportunity to make inroads into Intel's market-share.

Apple is the only major system vendor not using AMD. They became the lone hold-out when Sony started offering an AMD based laptop earlier this year. Will AMD's Fusion microarchitecture draw Apple away from Intel? The Mac Pros are not a likely place to start with an AMD processor, but the iMac is. Apple already uses an ATI GPU, so moving to AMD would not be a big change. Apple will move quickly when they find a better part for their products. They did so with nVidia's chipset to add a better GPU on their MacBooks. If the Intel graphics core is not good enough, look for Apple to make a move to AMD.

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