Quiz question: I’m an embedded system, but I’m not a smartphone. What am I?

In the embedded market, there are smartphones, automotive, consumer….and everything else. I’ve figured out why AMD’s G-Series SoCs fit perfectly into the “everything else”.

amd-embedded-solutions-g-series-logo-100xSince late 2013 AMD has been talking about their G-Series of Accelerated Processing Unit (APU) x86 devices that mix an Intel-compatible CPU with a discrete-class GPU and a whole pile of peripherals like USB, serial, VGA/DVI/HDMI and even ECC memory. The devices sounded pretty nifty—in either SoC flavor (“Steppe Eagle”) or without the GPU (“Crowned Eagle”). But it was a head-scratcher where they would fit. After-all, we’ve been conditioned by the smartphone market to think that any processor “SoC” that didn’t contain an ARM core wasn’t an SoC.

AMD’s Stephen Turnbull, Director of Marketing, Thin Client markets.

AMD’s Stephen Turnbull, Director of Marketing, Thin Client markets.

Yes, ARM dominates the smartphone market; no surprise there.

But there are plenty of other professional embedded markets that need CPU/GPU/peripherals where the value proposition is “Performance per dollar per Watt,” says AMD’s Stephen Turnbull, Director of Marketing, Thin Clients. In fact, AMD isn’t even targeting the smartphone market, according to General Manager Scott Aylor in his many presentations to analysts and the financial community.

AMD instead targets systems that need “visual compute”: which is any business-class embedded system that mixes computation with single- or multi-display capabilities at a “value price”. What this really means is: x86-class processing—and all the goodness associated with the Intel ecosystem—plus one or more LCDs. Even better if those LCDs are high-def, need 3D graphics or other fancy rendering, and if there’s industry-standard software being run such as OpenCL, OpenGL, or DirectX. AMD G-Series SoCs run from 6W up to 25W; the low end of this range is considered very power thrifty.

What AMD’s G-Series does best is cram an entire desktop motherboard and peripheral I/O, plus graphics card onto a single 28nm geometry SoC. Who needs this? Digital signs—where up to four LCDs make up the whole image—thin clients, casino gaming, avionics displays, point-of-sale terminals, network-attached-storage, security appliances, and oh so much more.

G-Series SoC on the top with peripheral IC for I/O on the bottom.

G-Series SoC on the top with peripheral IC for I/O on the bottom.

According to AMD’s Turnbull, the market for thin client computers is growing at 6 to 8 percent CAGR (per IDC), and “AMD commands over 50 percent share of market in thin clients.” Recent design wins with Samsung, HP and Fujitsu validate that using a G-Series SoC in the local box provides more-than-ample horsepower for data movement, encryption/decryption of central server data, and even local on-the-fly video encode/decode for Skype or multimedia streaming.

Typical use cases include government offices where all data is server-based, bank branch offices, and “even classroom learning environments, where learning labs standardize content, monitor students and centralize control of the STEM experience,” says AMD’s Turnbull.

Samsung LFDs (large format displays) use AMD R-Series APUs for flexible display features, like sending content to multiple displays via a network. (Courtesy: Samsung.)

Samsung LFDs (large format displays) use AMD APUs for flexible display features, like sending content to multiple displays via a network. (Courtesy: Samsung.)

But what about other x86 processors in these spaces? I’m thinking about various SKUs from Intel such as their recent Celeron and Pentium M offerings (which are legacy names but based on modern versions of Ivy Bridge and Haswell architectures) and various Atom flavors in both dual- and quad-core colors. According to AMD’s  published literature, G-Series SoC’s outperform dual-core Atoms by 2x (multi-display) or 3x (overall performance) running industry-standard benchmarks for standard and graphics computation.

And then there’s that on-board GPU. If AMD’s Jaguar-based CPU core isn’t enough muscle, the system can load-balance (in performance and power) to move algorithm-heavy loads to the GPU for General Purpose GPU (GPGPU) number crunching. This is the basis for AMD’s efforts to bring the Heterogeneous System Architecture (HSA) spec to the world. Even companies like TI and ARM have jumped onto this one for their own heterogeneous processors.

G-Series: more software than hardware.

G-Series: more software than hardware.

In a nutshell, after two years of reading about (and writing about) AMD’s G-Series SoCs, I’m beginning to “get religion” that the market isn’t all about smartphone processors. Countless business-class embedded systems need Intel-compatible processing, multiple high-res displays, lots of I/O, myriad industry-standard software specs…and all for a price/Watt that doesn’t break the bank.

So the answer to the question posed in the title above is simply this: I’m a visually-oriented embedded system. And I’m everywhere.

This blog was sponsored by AMD.

 

 

AMD’s Single Chip Embedded SoC: Upward and to the Right

Monolithic AMD embedded G Series SoCs combine x86 multicore, Radeon graphics, and a Southbridge. It’s one-stop-shopping, and it’s a flood targeting Intel again.

AMD arrow logoThe little arrow-like “a” AMD logo once represented an “upward and to right” growth strategy, back in the 1980s as the company was striving for $1.0B and I worked there just out of university.

In 2013, AMD is focusing on the embedded market with a vengeance and it’s “upward and to the right” again. The stated target is for AMD to grow embedded revenues from 5% in Q3 2012 to 20% of the total by Q4 2013. Wow. I’m excited about the company’s prospects, though I know they’ve had decades of false starts or technology successes that were later to sold off in favor of their personal war with Intel for PC dominance. (Flash memories and Vantis? The first DSP telephone modem Am7910? Telecom line cards? Alchemy “StrongMIPS”? All gone.)

Know what? PCs are in the tank right now, embedded is the market, and AMD might just be better positioned than Intel. They’re certainly saying all the right things. Take this week’s DESIGN West announcement of the new embedded G Series “SoCs”. Two years ago AMD invented the term Accelerated Processing Unit (APU) as a differentiated x86 CPU with an ATI GPU.

An AMD Accelerated Processing Unit merges a multicore x86 CPU with a Radeon GPU.

An AMD Accelerated Processing Unit merges a multicore x86 CPU with a Radeon GPU.

This week’s news is how the APU mind-melds with all of the traditional x86 Southbridge I/O to become a System-on-Chip (SoC).

The AMD G Series “SoC” does more real estate slight-of-hand by eliminating the Southbridge to bring all peripherals on-board the APU.

The AMD G Series “SoC” does more real estate slight-of-hand by eliminating the Southbridge to bring all peripherals on-board the APU.

The G Series SoCs meld AMD’s latest 28 nm quad-core “Jaguar” with the ATI Radeon 8000 series GPU and claim a 113 percent CPU and 20 percent GPU performance jump. More importantly, the single-chip SoC concept reduces footprint by 33 percent by eliminating a whole IC. On-board peripherals are HDMI/DVI/LVDS/VGA, PCIe, USB 2.0/3.0, SATA 2.x/3.x, SPI, SD card reader interface, and more. You know, the kind of stuff you’d expect in an all-in-one.

Available in 2- and 4-core flavors, the G Series SoC saves up to 33% board real estate, and even drives dual displays and high-res.

Available in 2- and 4-core flavors, the G Series SoC saves up to 33% board real estate, and even drives dual displays and high-res.

AMD is clearly setting their sites on embedded, and Intel is once again in the crosshairs. The company claims a 3x (218 percent) overall performance advantage with the GX-415GA SKU (quad core, 1.5 GHz, 2 MB L2) over Intel’s Atom D525 running Sandra Engineering 2011 Dhrystone ALU, Sandra Engineering 2011 Whetstone iSSE3, and other benchmarks such as those from EEMBC. Although AMD’s talking trash about the Atom, they’re disclosing all of their benchmarks, the hardware they were run on, and the OS assumptions. (The only thing that maybe seems hinky to me is that the respective motherboards use 4 GB DRAM (AMD) versus 1 GB DRAM (Intel).)

AMD CPU performance graph 1

And then there’s the built-in ECC which targets critical applications such as military, medical, financial, and casino gaming. The single-chip SoC is also designed ground-up to run -40 to +85C (operation) and will fit the bill in many rugged, defense, and medical applications requiring really good horsepower and graphics performance. Fan-less designs are the sweet spot with a 9W to 25W TDP, with all I/O’s blazing. Your mileage may vary, and AMD claims a much-better-than-Intel Performance-per-Watt number of 19 vs 9 as shown below. There are more family members to follow, some with sub 9W power consumption. Remember, that’s for CPU+GPU+Peripherals combined. Again, read the fine print.

AMD performance per Watt 1

I’m pretty enthused about AMD’s re-entry into the embedded market. Will Intel counter with something similar? Maybe not, but their own ultra low power Atom-based SoCs are winning smartphone designs left and right and have plenty of horsepower to run MPEG4 decode, DRM, and dual screen displays a la Apple’s AirPlay. So it’s game on, boys and girls.

The AMD vs Intel battle has always been good for the entire industry as it has “lifted all boats”. Here’s to a flood of new devices in embedded.