Today, at its "Future of Compute" event, AMD announced its first high-performance SoC, called Carizzo, which is based on the new Excavator CPU micro-architecture and a next-generation Radeon GPU architecture. (AMD isn't revealing too much right now about the next-gen Radeon bit.)
The SoC was designed to use the Heterogenous Systems Architecture (HSA) to take full advantage of GPU compute, increase performance and energy efficiency. Carizzo is the first HSA 1.0-compliant SoC to come to market. Other HSA-compliant SoCs are expected to arrive from HSA Foundation partners such as ARM, Qualcomm and Marvell, but they haven't announced any official HSA chips so far.
AMD also announced the "Carrizo-L," a lower-end SoC that comes with AMD's "Puma+" CPU and its old GCN GPU architecture, which should go into tablets, low-end Windows notebooks, and possibly some Chromebooks, as well. The two chips will support Windows 10, DirectX12, OpenCL 2.0, AMD Mantle API, and AMD's FreeSync technology.
Both chips will also come with "AMD Secure Processor," which is actually based on an ARM processor (Cortex A5 in the past, but could be Cortex A7 or even Cortex A53 this time) and ARM's TrustZone technology, which can keep sensitive data separated from the main OS or apps that aren't supposed to access that data.
"We continue to innovate and build upon our existing IP to deliver great products for our customers," said John Byrne, senior vice president and general manager, Computing and Graphics business group, AMD. "AMD's commitment to graphics and compute performance, as expressed by our goal to improve APU energy efficiency 25x by 2020, combines with the latest industry standards and fresh innovation to drive the design of the 2015 AMD Mobile APU family. We are excited about the experiences these new APUs will bring and look forward to sharing more details in the first half of next year."
HSA -- or the unification of the CPU, GPU, and other co-processors and accelerators -- has been in the works for more than two years, but in a way it's an evolution of AMD's "APU" strategy, which aimed to keep the CPU and GPU as close together as possible.
AMD is in a unique position to do this in the PC market, because it can make both the CPU and GPU. Nvidia, for example, cannot. Nvidia's Maxwell GPU architecture will also support many of the same features that are needed for heterogeneous computing, but because the company doesn't have its own x86 CPU, its chips can't benefit from the same kind of integration. Nvidia can only do it in the mobile market with Tegra K1's successor, just like Qualcomm or Imagination (with its MIPS CPUs and PowerVR GPUs).
Intel could follow a similar path as AMD, but in terms of tight integration between the CPU and GPU, Intel is a few years behind. While AMD was working on APUs, and on making GPUs act as CPUs, Intel was doing the opposite -- researching whether it can make many low-end CPUs act like a GPU. The Intel Xeon Phi, which is already on the market, works in this way, but it's only available for servers or supercomputers.
Intel may eventually try to push the "Phi" design to PCs and mobile as well, but the attempt could have a high risk of failure if it radically changes the way games are made without giving game developers a significant advantage over building their games for GPUs.
Even so, such integration on Intel's part is still a few years away. In the meantime, AMD's Carizzo and Carizzo-L HSA chips will launch next year, and other HSA chips from its ARM partners are likely to follow soon after. This will entrench the HSA model in the market and give developers a chance to become comfortable with it.