AMD Expands Embedded Capabilities With New SoCs

At Embedded World 2016, the company unveils three new high-performance, low-power chips aimed at such uses as thin clients and industrial controls.

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Embedded processors and the spaces they play in—from gaming to immersive computing to the Internet of things—was an important part of the roadmap Advanced Micro Devices executives laid out almost a year ago to leverage the resources they have to grow revenues and market share.

Up until now, most of the attention has been around AMD's graphics technologies, the data center and the promise of the upcoming "Zen" CPU architecture.

However, embedded chips are at the forefront this week. At the Embedded World 2016 show in Nuremberg, Germany, Feb. 23, AMD official introduced the latest generation of Embedded G-Series systems-on-a-chip (SoCs), graphics-rich and highly efficient chips aimed at a range of use cases, from thin clients and casino gaming to industrial controls, IP set-top boxes, point-of-sale terminals and other retail systems.

When the company officials put out the roadmap, they said the company wasn't going to be developing the processors that run in all the billions of endpoints that make up the Internet of things (IoT), but will be in the systems that run the massive amounts of data that the IoT will generate, as well as the networking and data center systems that move and store the data. The latest SoCs are examples.

"The way we think about the IoT is that it's not really a market; it's a force that shapes many markets," Scott Aylor, corporate vice president and general manager of AMD's Enterprise Solutions unit, told eWEEK, adding that it won't be AMD's chips that create all the data. "But we're going to take all [the data] and figure out ways to make useful information."

The new x86 SoCs, which are designed to enable systems makers to have the ability to easily scale and upgrade their hardware, bringing pin compatibility with other chips, include the entry-level G-Series LX processor and the higher-performing third-generation G-Series, code-named Brown Falcon and Prairie Falcon. The chips bring improved performance, power efficiency, graphics capabilities and bandwidth over previous generations, according to AMD officials.

The Brown Falcon and Prairie Falcon SoCs come with up to two of the company's "Excavator" CPU cores and up to four third-generation Graphics Core Next (GCN) cores, along with support for OpenGL ES, OpenCL, DirectX 12 and EGL. They also feature up to two channels of DDR4/DDR3 memory, an integrated AMD Secure Processor and 10 years of longevity to enable hardware makers to better plan their product roadmaps.

Company officials are eyeing a broad range of applications for the two new embedded SoCs, including thin clients, TVs, casino gaming, digital signage and communications networks. The chips bring G-Series performance closer to the level of the R-Series, in particular the "Merlin Falcon" chip that was launched last year. AMD's Aylor noted that AMD has a strong presence in the thin client space, including with such vendors as HP Inc. and Samsung, as well as Fujitsu.

The entry-level G-Series LX chip is more targeted to point-of-sales terminals, arcade gaming and industrial controls. The SoC offers advanced multimedia and display, and features two "Jaguar" CPU cores and GCN graphics, support for DirectX 11.2, OpenGL 4.3 and OpenCLTM 1.2., and single-channel DDR3 memory.

The G-Series LX SoC will help drive AMD's x86 chips into markets "that had only really been served by ARM," Aylor said. With the new SoC, hardware vendors now have a 64-bit, x86 alternative to the 32-bit ARM architecture. The new chip follows the launch of "eKabini" in 2013 and "Steppe Eagle" a year later.

The first of the thid-generation AMD Embedded G-Series SoCs are available now, with other offerings coming in the first and second quarter. The G-Series LX chips will be available next month.