In what is probably considered one of the worst kept secrets in the industry, Intel has announced a new CPU line for the mobile market that integrates AMD’s Radeon graphics. For the past year or so rumors of such a partnership were freely flowing, but now we finally get confirmation as to how this will be implemented and marketed.
Intel’s record on designing GPUs has been rather pedestrian. While they have kept up with the competition, a slew of small issues and incompatibilities have plagued each generation. Performance is also an issue when trying to compete with AMD’s APUs as well as discrete mobile graphics offerings from both AMD and NVIDIA. Software and driver support is another area where Intel has been unable to compete due largely to economics and the competitions’ decades of experience in this area.
There are many significant issues that have been solved in one fell swoop. Intel has partnered with AMD’s Semi-Custom Group to develop a modern and competent GPU that can be closely connected to the Intel CPU all the while utilizing HBM2 memory to improve overall performance. The packaging of this product utilizes Intel’s EMIB (Embedded Multi-die Interconnect Bridge) tech.
EMIB is an interposer-like technology that integrates silicon bridges into the PCB instead of relying upon a large interposer. This allows a bit more flexibility in layout of the chips as well as lowers the Z height of the package as there is not a large interposer sitting between the chips and the PCB. Just as interposer technology allows the use of chips from different process technologies to work seamlessly together, EMIB provides that same flexibility.
The GPU looks to be based on the Polaris architecture which is a slight step back from AMD’s cutting edge Vega architecture. Polaris does not implement the Infinity Fabric component that Vega does. It is more conventional in terms of data communication. It is a step beyond what AMD has provided for Sony and Microsoft, who each utilize a semi-custom design for the latest console chips. AMD is able to integrate the HBM2 controller that is featured in Vega. Using HBM2 provides a tremendous amount of bandwidth along with power savings as compared to traditional GDDR-5 memory modules. It also saves dramatically on PCB space allowing for smaller form factors.
EMIB provides nearly all of the advantages of the interposer while keeping the optimal z-height of the standard PCB substrate.
Intel did have to do quite a bit of extra work on the power side of the equation. AMD utilizes their latest Infinity Fabric for fine grained power control in their upcoming Raven Ridge based Ryzen APUs. Intel had to modify their current hardware to be able to do much the same work with 3rd party silicon. This is no easy task as the CPU needs to monitor and continually adjust for GPU usage in a variety of scenarios. This type of work takes time and a lot of testing to fine tune as well as the inevitable hardware revisions to get thing to work correctly. This then needs to be balanced by the GPU driver stack which also tends to take control of power usage in mobile scenarios.
This combination of EMIB, Intel Kaby Lake CPU, HBM2, and a current AMD GPU make this a very interesting combination for the mobile and small form factor markets. The EMIB form factor provides very fast interconnect speeds and a smaller footprint due to the integration of HBM2 memory. The mature AMD Radeon software stack for both Windows and macOS environments provides Intel with another feature in which to sell their parts in areas where previously they were not considered. The 8th Gen Kaby Lake CPU provides the very latest CPU design on the new 14nm++ process for greater performance and better power efficiency.
This is one of those rare instances where such cooperation between intense rivals actually improves the situation for both. AMD gets a financial shot in the arm by signing a large and important customer for their Semi-Custom division. The royalty income from this partnership should be more consistent as compared to the console manufacturers due to the seasonality of the console product. This will have a very material effect on AMD’s bottom line for years to come. Intel gets a solid silicon solution with higher performance than they can offer, as well as aforementioned mature software stack for multiple OS. Finally throw in the HBM2 memory support for better power efficiency and a smaller form factor, and it is a clear win for all parties involved.
The PCB savings plus faster interconnects will allow these chips to power smaller form factors with better performance and battery life.
One of the unknowns here is what process node the GPU portion will be manufactured on. We do not know which foundry Intel will use, or if they will stay in-house. Currently TSMC manufactures the latest console SoCs while GLOBALFOUNDRIES handles the latest GPUS from AMD. Initially one would expect Intel to build the GPU in house, but the current rumor is that AMD will work to produce the chips with one of their traditional foundry partners. Once the chip is manufactured then it is sent to Intel to be integrated into their product.
Apple is one of the obvious candidates for this particular form factor and combination of parts. Apple has a long history with Intel on the CPU side and AMD on the GPU side. This product provides all of the solutions Apple needs to manufacture high performance products in smaller form factors. Gaming laptops also get a boost from such a combination that will offer relatively high performance with minimal power increases as well as the smaller form factor.
The potential (leaked) performance of the 8th Gen Intel CPU with Radeon Graphics.
The data above could very well be wrong about the potential performance of this combination. What we see is pretty compelling though. The Intel/AMD product performs like a higher end CPU with discrete GPU combo. It is faster than a NVIDIA GTX 1050 Ti and trails the GTX 1060. It also is significantly faster than a desktop AMD RX 560 part. We can also see that it is going to be much faster than the flagship 15 watt TDP AMD Ryzen 7 2700U. We do not yet know how it compares to the rumored 65 watt TDP Raven Ridge based APUs from AMD that will likely be released next year. What will be fascinating here is how much power the new Intel combination will draw as compared to the discrete solutions utilizing NVIDIA graphics.
To reiterate, this is Intel as a customer for AMD’s Semi-Custom group rather than a licensing agreement between the two companies. They are working hand in hand in developing this solution and then both profiting from it. AMD getting royalties from every Intel package sold that features this technology will have a very positive effect on earnings. Intel gets a cutting edge and competent graphics solution along with the improved software and driver support such a package includes.
Update: We have been informed that AMD is producing the chips and selling them directly to Intel for integration into these new SKUs. There are no royalties or licensing, but the Semi-Custom division should still receive the revenue for these specialized products made only for Intel.