AMD Taps Graphics Chip for Data-Crunching

AMD debuted a new graphics chip modified to crunch huge amounts of data, with potential customers in financial, engineering and scientific industries.

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Advanced Micro Devices Inc (AMD.N: Quote, Profile, Research) launched a new graphics chip on Thursday modified to crunch huge amounts of data, with potential customers in financial, engineering and scientific industries.

The new product, called FireStream, gives AMD an answer to a similar initiative launched by rival Nvidia Corp (NVDA.O: Quote, Profile, Research) this year to find broader uses for increasingly powerful graphics chips.

"People want interaction in games to be more realistic, so a lot of the underlying physics turns out to be similar to what you want to do with real-world simulation," said Phil Hester, AMD's chief technology officer.

"It's a very good opportunity to exploit the power and price performance advantage the GPU (graphics processing unit) gives you," Hester said.

New graphics chips now often have more transistors and are more powerful than a computer's main processor, though their design means they are not good for running common software like a word processor or Web browser.

But they boast scores or even hundreds of processing units that work in parallel, making them great for crunching lots of numbers found in financial spreadsheets, geological survey data and weather simulations.

The potential market is worth hundreds of millions of dollars, according to Hester, who also envisions that growing as people find more ways to tap the extra processing power.

FireStream is also a stepping stone to a major AMD project called Fusion that aims to combine a graphics processor on the same piece of silicon as a central processor by early 2009, a change that could lead to better-performing laptops.

FireStream is based on the high-end graphics chip found in the Radeon products from AMD's ATI graphics unit and will cost $2,000, AMD said.

Boasting 660 million transistors and 320 processing units, the chips will be made by Taiwanese contract chipmaker TSMC with circuitry just 55 nanometers wide, smaller than the 65 nanometer circuits found in AMD's top-end computer processors.

(Reporting by Scott Hillis; Editing by Richard Hubbard)

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