Jaguar Hits the Embedded Space

AMD’s New G-Series Embedded SOCs Powered by Jaguar


It has long been known that AMD has simply not had a lot of luck going head to head against Intel in the processor market.  Some years back they worked on differentiating themselves, and in so doing have been able to stay afloat through hard times.  The acquisitions that AMD has made in the past decade are starting to make a difference in the company, especially now that the PC market that they have relied upon for revenue and growth opportunities is suddenly contracting.  This of course puts a cramp in AMD’s style, but with better than expected results in their previous quarter, things are not nearly as dim as some would expect.

Q1 was still pretty harsh for AMD, but they maintained their marketshare in both processors and graphics chips.  One area that looks to get a boost is that of embedded processors.  AMD has offered embedded processors for some time, but with the way the market is heading they look to really ramp up their offerings to fit in a variety of applications and SKUs.  The last generation of G-series processors were based upon the Bobcat/Brazos platform.  This two chip design (APU and media hub) came in a variety of wattages with good performance from both the CPU and GPU portion.  While the setup looked pretty good on paper, it was not widely implemented because of the added complexity of a two chip design plus thermal concerns vs. performance.

AMD looks to address these problems with one of their first, true SOC designs.  The latest G-series SOC’s are based upon the brand new Jaguar core from AMD.  Jaguar is the successor to the successful Bobcat core which is a low power, dual core processor with integrated DX11/VLIW5 based graphics.  Jaguar improves performance vs. Bobcat in CPU operations between 6% to 13% when clocked identically, but because it is manufactured on a smaller process node it is able to do so without using as much power.  Jaguar can come in both dual core and quad core packages.  The graphics portion is based on the latest GCN architecture.

Read the rest of the AMD G-Series release by clicking here!

The latest core is also a true SOC.  This means that all I/O functionality is implemented on the chip, so it no longer requires a secondary chip to provide that functionality.  It includes a 2 port SATA 3G/6G controller as well as an 8 port USB 2.0 and 2 port USB 3.0 controller.  The single chip will have lower overall TDPs because it does not rely on an external I/O controller fabricated on a much older process node.  It should also simplify design because it is a single chip rather than having to route power and data leads to two separate chips, as well as connecting those chips together.

The inclusion of the latest GCN graphics unit is a big boost for the APU.  It now supports up to DX11.1, OpenGL 4.0, and OpenCL 1.2.  This part seems more power efficient than the previous generation VLIW5.  It is not fully HSA enabled, but the extra architectural work does take the G-Series from OpenCL support from 1.1 to 1.2.  It does not seem like much, but the programmability of the latest 1.2 specification is a big step up.

The Jaguar core design does offer a nice jump in performance per clock as compared to the earlier Jaguar unit.  It is being manufactured by TSMC on their 28 nm HKMG process.  The previous Brazos platform featured TDPs from 9 watts to 18 watts.  For example, a dual core Bobcat at 1.6 GHz would have a TDP approaching 18 watts.  A quad core Jaguar with GCN at 1.5 GHz is a 15 watt TDP part.  The Bobcat TDP excludes the MCH chip, which added a couple more watts overall.  That is a significant jump in performance when pulling in fewer watts overall (quad vs. dual, GCN vs. VLIW5, and IPC improvements from Jaguar).  The current offerings go down to 9 watts TDP, and that includes a dual core variant running at 1 GHz.  The highest performing SKU is a 25 watt TDP part running four cores at 2 GHz.  Eventually it seems that AMD will introduce further SKUs with lower TDPs as yields and bins improve with this very new part.

AMD is really hoping that this chip will find a place in a lot of entertainment applications.  A TV featuring this chip would have true quad core performance, a very fast and capable GPU, and all of the UVD enhancements the latest AMD chips have (that work… for the most part).  Consumer devices are also starting to implement much more extravagant interfaces which feature realtime 3D rendering.  We also must consider that some products will actively use OpenCL or DirectCompute type functionality.

Until Intel releases their 22 nm Atom, they have nothing that can directly compare (or compete) with the latest AMD G-Series of SOCs.  Current ARM processors can compete on TDPs with these processors, but performance and graphics capabilities are not quite there yet.  AMD is hoping to really capitalize on the relative “weakness” in the embedded market when it comes to high performance/high feature SOCs.

Jaguar could very well overshadow the success of the previous generation Bobcat based products.  There are a lot of things going for it.  AMD certainly needs it to be successful to help offset the contraction of the PC market.  It looks to be a pretty robust part and can handle temperatures up to 90C, which makes it appropriate for some industrial applications.

While we have yet to see products based on Jaguar, they are coming very soon.  Expect a lot of announcements at Computex for low end notebooks and ultra-portables, as well as higher end tablets.  Undoubtedly we will see Jaguar based desktop PCs as well, especially in the small form factor area.  Embedded is just another option for AMD with this particular product, and hopefully for AMD their inroads with previous generation of embedded products will help them build the latest G-Series chips into a successful and profitable set of SKUs.

This is just another step for AMD to get into markets they previously overlooked or had abandoned long ago.  As mentioned above, AMD will continue to lower TDPs, and eventually they will produce ARM based designs of their own to fill in the gaps left by higher power x86 products.  Until that point, a G-Series processor would be a pretty compelling basis for a highly interactive TV or set top box.  It would also be an easy way to integrate functionality such as gesture and facial recognition into consumer level entertainment products.  The possibilities are endless with ample performance and low enough power.