ION, Fusion, What is Next?

Through the evolution of Mini-ITX, within the embedded and industrial markets we have seen various approaches to performance. Early on, AMD had focused on ultra-low power usage with the Geode line. The LX800 CPU found itself on some boards from Jetway and MSI just to name a couple. Its claim to fame was a 1W TDP, not performance. Other options have focused on pushing the performance envelope starting with Pentium M support on an older VIA board of all places, and more recently various desktop placed platforms. The more successful platforms of late (Nvidia’s first generation ION, and more recently AMD’s Fusion) have tried a balancing act between performance and power usage.

I want to take a quick look at the major players within our market space—the ones who dictate what hardware we get to play with everyday. What are their recent successes and what’s next?

Nvidia made some serious headlines nearly 3 years ago with their announcement of the ION platform, which paired Intel’s capable 1st generation dual core Atom processor with an Nvidia mobile performance-based chipset that included a legit graphics core. Unfortunately a dispute between Intel and Nvida over chipset development essentially killed any chance of a proper follow up. Nvidia’s attention has shifted back to what they are good at, with dedicated GPU development; however, recently they have had success launching Tegra in tablets and phones. Unfortunately  neither of these concentrations appear to have any direct impact on the embedded market any time soon.

AMD’s Congo platform looked to be their answer to ION, but didn’t really catch on in the embedded or consumer market. Thankfully they didn’t give up and Fusion has been a good recent win for AMD. Let’s hope they continue to push the limits and look to fill the void left between Atom and low-end Sandy Bridge offerings. Their next big release is a quad core variant of the Fusion APU.The big question here is: what type of hit are we going to see on the power/heat side of things? Are we going to be able to see this beast of a processor in a fanless small form factor box or will it be too hungry for power and require active cooling?

Intel’s Sandy Bridge architecture has proven that Intel can make a capable graphics engine, but will we see a comparable impact on the embedded segment with their Cedar Trail platform? Recent delays and downgraded feature sets are not boding well for Intel’s next step in the embedded realm. Additionally, Intel has to be continually aware of toeing the performance line between their embedded CPUs and mobile technology. Intel will put themselves in an awkward position if the low-cost Atom offers performance that rivals their higher cost, entry-level Sandy Bridge options.

And then there is VIA, who keeps chugging along with incremental chipset improvements and the continuous evolution of their Nano processor. The announcement of a Quad Core Nano certainly sounds promising, but we won’t likely see this in any of their embedded products until early 2012. At that time it will be competing against the aforementioned Quad Core Fusion and Cedar Trail solutions—pretty stiff competition.

Even with AMD’s recent Fusion, Intel is still the clear platform leader for the embedded market—right now. But AMD has made it clear that they can make an impact, and VIA is not just sitting on its laurels. Where do you see this shaking out over the next 6 months?

About James Floyd
James Floyd has been with the company since January 2007. He manages some of our top customer accounts with astute technical knowledge and a warm and friendly approach. He also has three adorable children: two boys and a little girl.
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