Not as high-profile as desktop graphics solutions but still enormously important from a business standpoint, embedded graphics solutions are the workhorse GPUs critical in a ever-larger range of applications from simple point-of-sale signage all the way through to medical data processing and imaging. This week AMD are taking the wraps off two new additions to their discrete embedded graphics range, bringing the power and features of Polaris to the sector of their business which is so often overlooked.
When AMD discuss discrete embedded graphics solutions what do the solutions entail? In essence they're graphics hardware utilised in relatively standalone, single-purpose units tailor made for a focussed use case. The classic example is a medical imaging unit such as ultrasound device, which leverages GPU hardware not only for high-resolution display but increasingly also image and signal processing, but in truth they can be found in places both mundane and mission critical.
Alongside the immensely important medical imaging market, AMD Enterprise currently highlight digital signage and casino gaming as natural fits for their embedded product lineup. Modern digital signage reinforces a need for low cost graphics hardware that is extremely efficient, with progressively greater levels of horsepower as content becomes more dynamic. Meanwhile Casino Gaming leverages techniques from the world of desktop gaming including complex dynamic 3D graphics to present a compelling gambling experience which can compete for a player's time against a wealth of videogame alternatives.
AMD recognise that embedded applications are only just starting to make serious use of all the graphics horsepower available to them, perhaps because multi-TFLOP capable embedded graphics are still a pretty new feature on the market. By adhering to open standards and pushing open source code for all their API libraries AMD hope that development of bespoke software for embedded applications will be easier and hence cheaper.
AMD's current embedded graphics lineup consists of E6000 and E8000 series GPU, offering a range of performance levels from 192 GFLOPS (E6460) through to 3 TFLOPS (E8870) that are available in a variety of form factors. Although the current stack are solid designs in their own right, the latest Polaris (GCN 4.0) architecture brings advancements in both performance and perf/Watt over even the GCN-based E8870, and so would be excellent additions to the lineup without necessarily supplanting any well-established and popular models. Enter the E9550 and E9260, two discrete embedded solutions based on now-familiar desktop GPUs.
The AMD E9550 is will be the new flagship discrete part for AMD's embedded GPU hardware lineup, offering performance topping 5.8 TFLOPs in an up-to 95W TDP package. Shipping in Q4, it will be available in an MXM Type B module (restricted to 100W) with 8GB VRAM and x16 PCIe Gen3 connectivity.
The E9550 is based on the same Polaris 10 GPU as that which resides within the RX 480, consisting of 36 CUs as well as support 4K HEVC Decode and Encode @ 10-bit. It is however a little more power efficient than its desktop equivalent, reflecting both its position as an higher value model and slight tweaks made to tailor it to the embedded market.
A sibling of the E9550, the E9260 is a 2.5 peak TFLOP part that will be available in packages up to 50W. Unlike the E9550 both MXM Type A and discrete PCIe form factors will be available, making it the more flexible model for a wide range of applications. The design also features 4GB VRAM and x16 PCIe Gen3 connectivity.
It should come as no surprise to realise that the E9260 is eerily similar to the RX 460, AMD's entry-level Polaris desktop card. Both feature the Polaris 11 GPU with 14 compute units and up to 4GB VRAM, but the E9260 is a slightly more power efficient model. The E9260's planned longevity is 5 years, substantially longer than the E9550 and most desktop graphics cards.
The E9550 and E9260 include features standard to AMD's Polaris architecture, including support for HDMI 2.0 and DisplayPort 1.3 video output standards.
Although a few tweaks have been made to in the compute portion of the overall package the major difference resides in the driver stack.
New Power Brings New Potential - AR & VR
You may have already recognised the fact that one of the two new embedded solutions conforms to the GPU requirements of high-quality VR gaming, but gaming isn't the only place where VR and AR (or augmented reality, the overlaying of digital imagery onto the real world) are expected to be used.
The most exciting possibility is the application of VR and AR in the medical world to aid in both patient diagnosis and health worker training. These tools in particular need not only the responsiveness of high-quality VR, but also the colour accuracy possible with the latest GPUs and display technologies. Generating fully 3D CT and MRI scans could help with the speed and accuracy of doctor diagnosis and would be an invaluable teaching tool for students in preparation for more 'hands on' classes. And that's only what's immediately obvious.
Even the relatively mundane world of digital signage has the potential to be transformed into something akin to that out of Minority Report, where adverts are tailored to you. The GPU would have a hand in scanning you face to 'recognise' you, and could render images of you with or even wearing the product being advertised. That's functionality many boutique stores would love.
AMD's upcoming embedded GPUs will begin shipping in Q4 2016, sold to businesses through a range of distribution channels. Although some upgrades will be a simple matter of slot-in replacements, expect to see some lag-time for truly new approaches and uses.
As always, more information can be found at AMD.com.