AMD will make a big GPU push next year

While it treads water waiting to finish Zen, its GPU group will be busy.

It can't be a whole lot of fun around AMD these days, with declining sales and layoffs. But the company is not going to roll over and die. During the earnings call to discuss its painful third quarter, top executives laid out plans to update basically its entire graphics portfolio.

AMD recently formed a vertical business unit called the Radeon Technologies Group to cover all of its graphics businesses, such as add-in boards, OEM and other markets. During the call with financial analysts, CEO Lisa Su pointed out that there was strong double-digit sequential revenue growth in both the CPUs (or APU as they call it) and GPUs.

Su confirmed that AMD will update its entire graphics portfolio in 2016 to either 14nm or 16nm FinFET process technology, which she said will deliver twice the performance per watt of AMD’s current graphics offerings.

Who will make it is still a mystery. Globalfoundries, the company formed when AMD spun off its fabrication facilities and the maker of its CPUs, has 14nm FinFET, while TSMC, which normally does the GPUs, has 16nm. And so far, it seems AMD is working with both companies.

"We also taped out multiple products in FinFET technologies across both of our foundry partners that are on track to enter production next year," she told the analysts on the call. I really hope she's been following the iPhone 6S controversy and doesn't split the work among two foundries.

AMD's graphics plans are nothing if not ambitious. This new family of GPUs is codenamed "Arctic Islands," a change from the prior generations named after south Pacific islands. This will be the third generation of AMD's Graphics Core Next (GCN), first introduced in 2012 with the HD 7000 series.

The first GPU in the Arctic Islands family is codenamed "Greenland" and will reportedly be a big jump over past generations thanks to not only core advancements and the process shrink, but also because it will use AMD's High Bandwidth Memory technology. One rumor says Greenland will have 32GB of HBM with 1TB/sec of memory bandwidth. It will also pack 18 billion transistors into the GPU, making it twice the size of current chips.

"Arctic Islands" will cover everything from mobile and desktop as well be used in AMD's custom chip business. The custom chip business hasn't really gone beyond the Sony PlayStation 4 and Microsoft Xbox One, but that might change. First, a site called Bits and Chips claims that Apple has approached AMD to make a custom SoC for the iMac beginning next year. Like every other rumor, take that with a grain of salt.

Second, Nintendo has a new console in the works, called Nintendo NX. Nintendo already used the AMD SoC in its Wii U so the two could be continuing their partnership. Su did say on the call that the company will have "additional semi-custom revenue ramping in the second half of 2016," and the Nintendo NX is projected for a late 2016 release.

So, things may be looking up for the company. It certainly could use the good news.

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