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AMD Developer Summit for Software Designers

Chipmaker Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) is probably not the first company you think of when it comes to software developer conference organizers, but the company's Fusion Developer Summit, wrapping up today in Bellevue, Wash., really brought it with three days of keynotes, breakout sessions and hands-on labs -- all designed to help codederos make the most of its evolving technology.

AMD explained the impetus for the conference on the event Web site:

"Heterogeneous computing is moving into the mainstream, and a broader range of applications are already on the way. As the provider of world-class CPUs, GPUs, and APUs, AMD offers unique insight into these technologies and how they interoperate.  We’ve been working with industry and academia partners to help advance real-world use of these technologies, and to understand the opportunities that lie ahead. It’s time to share what we’ve learned so far."

AMD's Fusion APUs (Accelerated Processing Units), which were unveiled in January, combine a multicore CPU, a DirectX 11 video and parallel processing engine, a dedicated Universal Video Decoder 3 (UVD3) HD video acceleration block, and a high-speed bus for carrying data among the APU's cores.

Before the show, I talked with Manju Hegde, corporate VP of AMD's Fusion Experience Program, about his hardware company's interest in putting together a software developer conference.

"When the PC market was young," he said, "it was possible to sell based on technical merits and technology metrics -- basically, processor speed. But as the market matures, and as Apple has shown the world so forcefully, end users care about solutions based on what they want to do -- solutions and experiences -- not megahertz and gigahertz. All these experience that users really care about come from a strong ecosystem between us and developers, but it's an ecosystem that users are rarely exposed to. That's why developer tools and environments -- and conferences like this one -- are important to a company like ours."

In other words, the software is the medium in which the hardware vendor connects to the consumer. It's an obvious relationship, but not necessarily a compelling reason to attend a conference, Hegde admitted.

"Attracting developers isn't easy," Hegde said, "because they very quickly see through fluff. Every company touts their wares to them, and everyone is vying for their attention, so they have very high standards. So it was important to have material of high technical quality at the conference, and solid keynotes."

The event's keynote roster included AMC corporate fellow Phil Rogers ("The Programmer's Guide to the APU Galaxy"); Jem Davies, ARM Fellow and VP of Technology in the company's Media Processing Division ("Compute Power and Energy-Efficiency: Partnerships, Standards and the ARM GPU Perspective"); Microsoft's Herb Sutter, principal architect in the Native Languages group ("Heterogeneous Parallelism at Microsoft"); Corel CTO Graham Brown ("Creating a decision framework for OpenCL usage"); and Eric Demers, AMD corporate VP and CTO in the Graphics Division ("Evolution of AMD's Graphics Core, and Preview of Graphics Core Next").

AMD is making all of these keynotes available on the Web here. They're all good, but Graham Brown's OpenCL talk was a standout. (The Open Computing Language is a framework for parallel programming of heterogeneous systems.) Also, Phil Rogers laid out the roadmap for AMD's Fusion System Architecture (FSA) for APCs and PC platforms at the show. And Herb Sutter announced Microsoft's plans to add new massively parallel computing capabilities to the next version of its C++ compiler and to graphics processing units (GPUs).

AMD also made some news at the show by announcing the first round of companies participating in the AMD Fusion Fund program. This program was created to "initiate strategic investments in companies that are developing unique, digital consumer, and professional experiences that take advantage of the power of the innovative AMD Fusion family of Accelerated Processing Unit (APU) products," the company said in a statement.

Among the new Fusion Fund partners, AMD threw a spotlight on videoconferencing software maker ViVu. In February, AMD demo'd a system it created with ViVu, called "AMD Wireless TV," at the Consumer Electronics Show. This week the two companies announced that AMD is investing in ViVu through the Fusion Fund. The amount of the investment was not disclosed.

More than 700 developers attended AMD's first software developer conference, an unexpectedly high (and encouraging) number, said Hegde.

"At the end of the day, this conference gave us a chance to let all the developers know how we are making it much easier for them to capture all the compute and graphics capabilities that are going to be in our roadmap," Hegde said.

(BTW: I just learned that AMD is working with Morgan Kaufmann, an imprint of Elsevier Science & Technology Books, to publish a new book for developers entitled "Heterogeneous Computing with OpenCL." Lots of co-authors on this one, including Benedict Gaster, Lee Howes, David R. Kaeli, Perhaad Mistry and Dana Schaa. Look for the book in August.)

Posted by John K. Waters on June 16, 2011