AMD has hinted that its accelerated processing unit (APU) hardware will be finding its way into another next-generation console product, after Sony confirmed rumours that it had chosen the company's chips for the PlayStation 4.
The PlayStation 4 uses an eight-core APU based on a combination of AMD's 'Jaguar' processing cores and Graphics Core Next (GCN) hardware offering a claimed compute throughput of 1.84 teraflops. Despite full x86 and AMD64 compatibility, however, the chips aren't exactly the same as those you'd find in a PC - and we're not just talking about the whopping 8GB of GDDR5 DRAM with which Sony has paired the processor.
In a blog post
following Sony's console-free 'unveiling' event, AMD's John Taylor - vice president of global communications and marketing - explains: 'In fact, the PS4 is the first announced design win based on semi-custom AMD APUs. Our semi-custom solutions take the same treasure trove of graphics; compute and multi-media IP found in our APUs, and customize them for customers who have a very specific high-volume product that could benefit from AMD’s leading-edge technologies.
'In the case of the PS4, we leveraged the building blocks of our 2013 product roadmap – the same technologies you find in the latest AMD APUs powering PCs, ultrathin notebooks and tablets – to create a solution that incorporates our upcoming, low-power AMD Jaguar CPU cores with next-generation AMD Radeon graphics delivering nearly two teraflops of compute performance
' added Taylor. 'This unique APU architecture enables game developers to easily harness the power of parallel processing to fundamentally change the console gaming experience.
So, the processor found in the PlayStation 4 is a semi-custom design that won't be appearing elsewhere - but let's just rewind to Taylor's statement towards the start of his blog post. 'In fact, the PS4 is the first announced design win based on semi-custom AMD APUs,
' he wrote (emphasis ours.) That's a very careful choice of words: it's the first announced
design win for semi-custom APU parts. Taylor could have said it was the 'first design win,' or the 'first semi-custom APUs,' but he didn't. Instead, he specifically stated that it was the first design win that has been announced, suggesting other design wins are signed, sealed and waiting in the wings.
Things are clarified still further in Taylor's penultimate paragraph: 'This is going to be a very exciting year for gamers,
' he wrote, 'especially for those with AMD hardware in their PCs and consoles, as we have even more game-changing (pun intended) announcements still to come.
Reading between the lines - not that such a thing is difficult, given the transparency of Taylor's statements - it seems clear that the PlayStation 4 will not be the only next-generation console to feature a semi-custom AMD APU. With Nintendo's Wii U already launched and the specifications of the PlayStation 4 confirmed, that only leaves one possibility: AMD's rumoured design win in the Xbox 720 is fact.
For AMD, that's major news: while hardware sales to console manufacturers are low-margin work, they're also high volume - meaning it stands to make a pretty penny from the deal. To put this into perspective: Sega's decision to use graphics hardware from Imagination Technologies in its not-terribly-successful Dreamcast console would provide the financial footing the small start-up needed to develop its PowerVR architecture, which is still a popular choice for smartphones and tablets today. For AMD, a win with all three console manufacturers - providing the graphics hardware for the Nintendo Wii U and the APU hardware for both the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 720 - could be just what it needs to boost its research and development funds.
For gamers, it means the balance of power could be shifting: with all three consoles using AMD graphics hardware, and the Xbox 720 and PlayStation 4 also using AMD APU technology, games developers will be likely to optimise for AMD first and Intel and Nvidia a distant second - at least, those who are developing cross-platform games will, and that's a large chunk of the market.
Microsoft, naturally, has not commented on any rumoured specifications of its upcoming next-generation console, but if AMD has really scored a hat-trick, the company will have reason to celebrate for the first time in years - and Intel may have just inherited a multi-year headache.