Rage3D Kombuting // November 30th edition

Author: Panagiotis Vagiakos
Date: November 30th, 2012

This week: AMD Vision, Intel and BGA, Surface Pro and a Humble Bundle to get!

Is it a blog? Is it my rumblings with a spice of memes? Is it Stuff That Are Entirely My Opinion And Do Not Reflect That of Rage3D? Guilty as charged on all accounts. Enjoy and comment away :)

The problem with AMD's vision

After a month's absence, Kombuting is back and tackling its favourite subject first: AMD; a company that seems to be constantly under the spotlight recently. Not always in a good light though. The funny thing is; looking at my comments from previous installations of Kombuting you could almost say that I have bad feelings against it, whereas the exact opposite is true. Not just because I worked there for two years, but because I was always rooting for them, even since the 1980s when I started falling in love with computing.

But I fear that modern AMD's focus is far away from the vision that brought you the ground-breaking Athlon processors in the past. Not only that, but recently there has been an onslaught of editorials from many journalists, stating the troubling future of the company from their perspective. Guess what: I haven't read one that was optimistic. As I said, it all boils down to this: strategy (or lack, thereof) and vision. Until the Athlon processor was released, AMD was nothing more than a cheap alternative to expensive Intel. It provided solid processors, compatible with Intel, at a cheaper price. Nothing more. And then Athlon happened, and it took the world by storm - AMD became synonymous with fast, with gaming performance, whereas Intel and its Netburst architecture (also known as the Pentium 4 family of processors) became known as... well, no need to beat a dead horse anymore. AMD reigned everywhere; you see, everyone likes it when the underdog finally wins. But of course, when you have a company like Intel (or Chipzilla as many people call it) as your opponent, you know that they'll reply. And boy, they sure did. Their Core processors absolutely dominated everything when they arrived in 2006, and still do; and since Intel came back to the No.1 performance spot, even though we had enough major generations of processors from AMD (Phenom, Phenom II, the AMD FX more recently), their crown is undisputed. Nope, not even a single challenge.

(see what I did there?)

Fast forward to present day, where AMD has a true 8-core processor out there, and higher clock speeds - yet, it still lags behind Intel, and sometimes by a wide margin. So what's wrong? Vishera was unleashed upon us recently, and things hardly changed; single thread performance suffers with the AMD FX. In their defense, I really think that some aspects of their core design are too forward-thinking for their time. We live in a world where single-threaded performance is still mighty important, and software has trouble accessing and harnessing the performance of anything more than 4 cores. One could argue that "hey, AMD is future-proof with that kind of design", but when you think about it some more, you can clearly see the holes in that argument. Because when software will have caught up with such multi-core processors and single-thread performance will not mean so much to the average application, Intel (and AMD, for that matter) will have released a couple more generations of processors. And since when is it wrong to have both good single and multi thread performance at the same time anyway?

Then you have the "performance per dollar" argument, which, again, seems forced. It's almost like PR people were trying to find arguments to back up certain design decisions. So yeah, from that point of view, it's better. So go buy a lowly processor, because it gives you a better performance per dollar spent and, please, no more Radeon cards. No need to get those, since you can always settle for integrated graphics. And what happened to the "more power efficient processors" argument now that Intel has the upper hand there too? It's a true mess, and unfortunately it won't get better soon. AMD seems to be settling for second best, handing over the enthusiast/performance crowd to its arch rival. And who are they? Gamers mostly, people who actually tend to upgrade their PCs more than casual users, people who drive sales and mindshare. Because, as you and I both know, casual users who only use their PC for browsing the web and watching videos, movies and maybe some casual gaming can easily settle for a laptop or tablet, hence the sharp increase in laptop and tablet purchases the past few years.

So you have a company consistently making bad decisions, and having financial difficulties, laying off people and then more people, losing top talent in the process. They're even trying to sell their campus in order to lease it back and get a much-needed cash infusion. If that doesn't ring hell's bells, I don't know what will. What I fear the most is not AMD going under - it's that it'll become irrelevant. Its heterogeneous computing idea (with ARM cores integrated to their x86 processors) is good fundamentally, but will they implement it in the right way? I feel that consumer/mobile space has more need for something like that - imagine a tablet that would run both Android and Windows applications. At the same time, natively. The possibilities are endless. But, with their recent track record...well, I am not so optimistic.

Hey, Intel can make mistakes too!

...and since I had good words to say about AMD, it seems Intel got jealous of stupid decisions as well. Ok, it's only a rumour for now, and nothing's been made official, so there's still hope. So, in case you haven't heard, Haswell will be the last Intel processor line that will use a socketed processor package. No, we won't go back to this:

Instead, we will go back, to this:

It seems Intel is considering a return to BGA processors starting with Haswell's successor, Broadwell (for those of you confused by processor code names, it goes like this: Ivy Bridge -> Haswell -> Broadwell). Which simply means that the processor will be soldered onto the motherboard, like the old (more like, ancient) times. Of course there are the usual pro arguments like ARM processors do it too, and more portability, and reduced thermals and the thickness factor yada yada but really Intel? OK, I'd totally get it if it was merely destined for your entry level processors, but moving the whole family there? It's the definition of shooting yourself in the foot. Twice. With a rocket launcher. People buy PCs because they are moddable and upgradable; and that upgradability is a factor whenever somebody buys a PC. The "will I be able to upgrade it in the future" is one of the first questions people ask, and if that decision has any merit, well, it makes the answer a straight "no". What's wrong with management these days? I don't get it.

All I need now is my turbo button and I am set.

Microsoft Surface Pro details finally arrive

The cat is out of the bag regarding the Pro version of Surface - it will be powered by a Core i5 processor, 4GB of RAM, 1920x1080 resolution (finally someone talked some sense into them), Intel graphics (yuck), a full USB 3.0 port and even mini-Displayport too. The 64GB version will cost $899, with the 128GB version at $999, there'll be a stylus there thrown in for good measure, but no Touch or Type Covers, which will cost extra. You can expect it to be heavier, thicker than its RT little brother, and with half the batter life as well. And, since it'll run a full copy of Windows 8, it will run all your beloved x86 apps.

(image courtesy of Eurogamer)

So, my question is, who is going to buy it? Microsoft hasn't released any numbers about how well the RT version of Surface sold, but general consensus is that it's not exactly flying off the shelves. So will its big brother do that? If it's marketed as simply another tablet, it will fail even more miserably with that kind of price, and that's my opinion. But add a Type Cover to the bundle, and market it as an Ultrabook/Macbook replacement, and suddenly the price is great for it. Don't forget that the Surface Pro is a full PC, it can run every x86 application out there, with the added benefit of becoming a great tablet for consuming content. Windows 8 has just launched, and quality applications for the new Metro environment is still an issue, but the situation is improving day by day, as any Windows 8 user will tell you. And with more high-profile apps coming to Windows 8 in the near future (Microsoft claims that there are apps in the App Market that have already surpassed one million downloads, a huge number for such a young OS), more and more developers will start making more apps.

Surface Pro has a clear place in our world. It's a strange hybrid that can do everything a laptop and a tablet can do, in a beautiful package. But the way Microsoft will market it can make, or break it. January can't come soon enough.

...and finally, THQ's Humble Bundle

No need for long speeches for this one. Get it. Now.

Tune in next week (I promise :p); same Komb-time, same Komb-site.