AMD's acquisition of graphics chipmaker ATI should bear some collaborative fruit in early 2009, when the company is expected to debut the mobile Fusion product. Combining the CPU cores and GPU cores into one "accelerated processing unit," AMD anticipates that Fusion will provide a better graphics and media experience and (because only one chip is drawing power) extended battery life for laptop users.
Intel is characteristically mum on its plans for 2009, but CNET News.com reporter Tom Krazit noted earlier this year that the company was hiring developers for discrete graphics products. Krazit went on to hypothesize that the job posting, which described plans to focus initially on discrete graphics but then expand to work on CPU integration, signaled Intel's intent to develop an integrated GPU-CPU to compete with AMD's Fusion product.
Beyond traditional processors, our hunch is that the traditional desktop architecture is due for a revolution within the next few years. AMD's acquisition of graphics chip vendor ATI, AMD's Torrenza, and Intel's Geneseo and CSI initiatives, and Nvidia's CUDA all point to silicon performing new and different tasks and in combinations and arrangements we haven't really seen before. We don't expect we'll see much in the way of a tangible new computing model emerging this year, but what we envision when we think of a computer could be in for a dramatic change sooner than you think.
Finally, if you're wondering what's next in the race for multicore supremacy, both AMD and Intel have motherboards out that will accommodate two quad-core CPUs, which lets you build a string-and-baling wire eight-core computer. CNET Labs pulled the same trick on the Mac Pro a few months ago. We found no details, official or otherwise, regarding native eight-core chips in our research for this story, but it's not hard to imagine that eight-core processing might make its way to the desktop within the next few years. It could be that Intel's 45nm Nehalem is heat efficient enough to make an eight-core (octo-core?) CPU possible, so perhaps we'll see one as soon as 2008. We have a feeling Intel will be the first to make the leap, since AMD is still playing catch-up in terms of moving to 65nm and introducing quad core. Whether the software will be ready to benefit from eight-core chips when they inevitably arrive is another question.