Advanced Micro Devices' efforts in building out its embedded business will play a key role in how the chip maker's future rolls out.
The embedded space is one of several growth markets AMD officials have been targeting over the past few years as they have looked to reduce the company's reliance on a volatile global PC space that saw steep sales declines after 2011 and, despite a more stable 2014, continues to be a worry of AMD and other tech vendors.
Given that, it's not surprising that AMD executives want to highlight customer wins in the embedded computing space, and for the first several months of this year, there has been some wins to tout. In January, the chip maker announced that Analogic is using AMD's Embedded Radeon HD 7850 GPU in its BK Ultrasound bk3000 system. GE officials the next month said they were using AMD's G-Series systems-on-a-chip (SoCs) in an industrial Internet module.
Now AMD is pointing to Samsung Electronics' adoption of Embedded R-Series accelerated processing units (APUs) to power its set-back box (SBB) digital signage products, a move that officials with the chip maker said bodes well for the continued growth of the embedded chip business and bolsters their efforts around performance and power management.
"It's a good validation around the technology we are [offering] in digital signage," Scott Aylor, corporate vice president and general manager of AMD's Embedded Solutions business, told eWEEK, adding that the work around power management enables Samsung to build such a power device in such a small form factor.
Samsung's new SBB-B64DV4 media player for digital signage is powered by AMD's Embedded RX-425BB APU, which combines an x86 CPU and an integrated, discrete-class Radeon R6 GPU. The APU comes in a low-power configuration that reduces heat dissipation constraints while meeting energy-efficiency requirements, Aylor said. It comes almost a year after AMD released the second generation of Embedded R-Series APUs—code-named "Bald Eagle"—which included AMD's Graphics Core Next (GCN) architecture for improved visual and parallel processing capabilities and support for 4K high-definition display resolution.
It also was the first to be fully compliant with the Heterogeneous System Architecture (HSA) architecture, which is designed to make it easier to move workloads between the CPU and GPU. AMD officials have said the HSA architecture is important for parallel processing workloads, like those increasingly found in embedded systems.
The APU gives Samsung a chip that enables it to create a compact SBB design that has a high level of performance and supports 4K displays, which will become increasingly important as pricing for 4K continues to go down, Aylor said.
Digital signage will continue to be an important area for AMD's embedded efforts, he said. It's becoming more pervasive in retail and other arenas, and will grow in demand as it evolves. It will become more interactive as the use of beacons increases to help businesses understand store traffic and who is interacting with the signage, and as more intelligence is put into the devices to give organizations greater insight into buyer patterns and expectations.
All this is good for AMD's embedded business, which Aylor said grew revenues 20 percent in 2014 and will be getting greater investment this year. During a conference call in January, AMD President and CEO Lisa Su noted that revenues for the business grew for three consecutive quarters last year as the company continued to target particular markets, which also include networks, storage, medical devices and avionics.
Su also said the company will increase investments in such areas as embedded chips, semi-custom silicon and the enterprise. In response to a question, the CEO said that while it was early to offer guidance for the embedded business for the entire year, "I think we would say that we would expect embedded to continue to grow."
That will be important as AMD, which again saw its quarterly financial numbers hurt last year by the PC market, continues to branch out into new areas. According to AMD, in 2010, these new growth markets—not only embedded, but also such areas as low-power servers, professional graphics and semi-custom chips—accounted for 10 percent of the company's revenues. That figure grew to 40 percent last year, and officials expect that by the end of 2015, they will account for 50 percent of revenues.