AMD's seemingly bizarre decision to ditch the Fusion branding in favour of the tongue-twisting Heterogeneous Systems Architecture (HSA) moniker, announced back in January, finally has an explanation: AMD isn't going to be the only HSA house around.

AMD's Fusion project was officially launched in June 2011 as an attempt to meld the capabilities of a computer's central processor and graphics processor into a single, cohesive whole. Although its most famous output, the Accelerated Processing Unit (APU) family of chips, doesn't quite reach that lofty goal, the company has outlined plans which will allow the two traditionally disparate components to share resources in a way which could, an AMD-funded study has shown, boost overall system performance by up to 20 per cent.

The reason for the shift away from the easily-remembered Fusion name to the hard-to-spell Heterogeneous Systems Architecture three-letter acronym seemed odd, but an announcement made by AMD at its Fusion Developer Summit late last night has brought clarity to the situation: HSA is to be an industry-wide effort, not just an AMD research and development exercise.

Accordingly, AMD announced the formation of the HSA Foundation, a non-profit consortium of chip makers looking to boost performance of their parts with heterogeneous processing technology. Naturally, Intel isn't among its list of members - but British low-power chip giant ARM, mobile graphics giant Imagination Technologies, MediaTek, and ARM licensee Texas Instruments are, along with AMD itself.

'HSA moves the industry beyond the constraints of the legacy system architecture of the past 25-plus years that is now stifling software innovations,' claimed Phil Rogers, AMD corporate fellow and president of the HSA Foundation, of the group's aims. 'By aiming HSA squarely at the needs of the software developer, we have designed a common hardware platform for high performance, energy efficient solutions. HSA is unlocking a new realm of possibilities across PCs, smartphones, tablets and ultrathin notebooks, as well as the innovative supercomputers and cloud services that define the modern computing experience.'

AMD has claimed that the HSA Foundation is open to all - including, if it should so desire, long-time rival Intel - stating that it 'welcomes forward-thinking semiconductor companies, platform and OS vendors, device manufacturers, independent software vendors, academia and open source developers' into its ranks.

'We are all demanding more from the technology that connects us to our digital worlds: graphical interfaces are critical to the user experience but can have a power impact. With open standards, developers can now provide outstanding graphics without compromising power-efficiency,' claimed Jem Davies, vice president of technology at ARM's media processor division, of its membership in the Foundation. 'ARM welcomes the formation of the HSA Foundation and is pleased to be one of the founding members. ARM's extensive experience with heterogeneous systems brings a unique leadership perspective to developing the right compute processor for the right tasks based on the latest ARM technology, such as ARM Mali GPUs and Cortex processors.'

Although the Foundation has made much of its support for any and all companies and individuals looking to develop HSA-based products, membership comes at a cost. The smallest membership bracket, that of Associate, costs $1,000 a year, while companies wanting early access to specifications will be expected to pay $10,000 a year for the privilege.

Mid-sized companies working in the field of development tools, including creators of simulators, compilers, debuggers and libraries, and having a revenue of under $25 million a year get access to the Supporter level at $15,000 a year. The Promoter bracket is for companies involved in other markets, including consumer-oriented product development, and costs a whopping $75,000 a year. The Founder level, meanwhile, costs $125,000 a year for a place on the board and the ability to have control over the ratification of final specifications - but is available only via invitation from the existing board members.

The HSA Foundation's support for academia is also welcomed, but again not cost-free: academics wishing to get involved in the Foundation's efforts will be welcomed into the fold by invitation only, and then asked to shell out $5,000 a year for the privilege.

Despite some fairly hefty membership fees, the HSA Foundation has already attracted an impressive array of talent - but AMD's heavy involvement could turn some companies off the project. Intel, in particular, is unlikely to want to have anything to do with the Foundation while an AMD fellow is its president, and Nvidia - creator of the hugely popular Tegra family of ARM-based system-on-chip designs - is likely to be equally cagey about working so closely with its long-time rival in the graphics market.

AMD's involvement in the project also suggests a closer partnership with ARM than has previously been considered; coupled with comments made by AMD chief technology officer Mark Papermaster back in February, in which he refused to rule out the possibility of an AMD ARM-based processor, the chances of AMD taking on an ARM architecture licence look a lot brighter.

More details about the HSA Foundation are available at the official website.
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