AMD plans to start taking netbooks seriously… next year

Intel, VIA, and ARM have been duking it out in the low power, low price laptop market for the past three years. And while Intel’s Atom chips are the reigning champs at the moment, Freescale, Qualcomm, NVIDIA, and a number of other companies with ARM-based chips could put a serious dent in Intel’s lead if so-called “smartbooks” with integrated 3G and always-connected internet access start to take off.

But what about AMD? When it comes to desktop and higher end laptop chips, AMD is Intel’s biggest rival. But the company has been all-but-absent in the netbook space. Sure, there are a few relatively low power and inexpensive chips in AMD’s lineup such as the AMD Neo MV-40. But very few laptops use that chipset, and those that do tend to get horrible battery life.

But it looks like AMD plans to start taking the netbook space more seriously in 2011. That’s when Hardware Central reports AMD will launch a new chip as part of its “Fusion” line that’s set to compete with Intel’s Atom chips.

Like the Intel Atom Pine Trail chip, AMD’s new processor will combine graphics and processing functions onto a single chip, which will use somewhere around 10 to 15 watts. That’s more power than an Atom chip uses, but much less than a typical AMD (or Intel, for that matter) laptop chip.

The primary difference between AMD’s low power chip and the Intel Atom will be that AMD’s integrated graphics will be more on-par with a dedicated graphics card. AMD owns graphics card maker ATI. So while you pretty much need a Broadcom HD video accelerator or an NVIDIA ION card in order to watch 1080p HD video on an Atom powered netbook, machines with AMD’s upcoming chip should be able to handle HD video out of the box.

The AMD processor will be aimed primarily at notebooks with screen sizes of 12 inches or less.

While entering the netbook space more than 3 years after the launch of the first netbook might seem like a bad idea, one of the biggest complaints people have about today’s netbooks is that they aren’t powerful enough to perform certain tasks. If AMD and its hardware partners market the new platform to customers looking for thin and light laptops at a reasonable price with more powerful processors and graphics than you can find from an Atom based system, the company might be able to carve out a new niche — or redefine the market. Or maybe people will just compare the new platform favorably or unfavorably to Intel’s CULV processor line.

  • gman

    As an observer, this is heaven sent. The wings are going to be put on netbooks and they are going to fly. They can! A bit of competition will push the limits to a place where the rightfully should be. I just know that with the games Intel has been playing, I will support AMD exclusively. AMD has nothing to lose, but their only focus will be on faster, better, and more for us as consumers. Don't be naive and think that a netbook has to be slow. It doesn't. There doesn't have to be limitations, unless of course you have a vested interest in keep it under wrap because the catagory isn't quite profitable enough. Screw that. Give me a computer that can fly. AMD will be the biggest move ever. Just wait and see. I realize companies and collusion can happen and there still remains that chance of unfair limitations put on netbooks.

  • http://home.comcast.net/~tomleem/ BigGoofyGuy

    I am supporter of AMD. I think competition is not only good for innovation but for customers since it means lower prices and better products.

    I was hoping AMD entered the netbook market since it is doing so well and would be foolish for them to continue ignoring it. It would be nice to see their CPU's in netbooks that 10 incher's.

  • KitchenCookiesRock

    Part of the definition of a netbook is underpowered – otherwise, it's an ultraportable.

    We've got fast ultraportables right now, and cheap, slow, low end 15 inch laptops. Can we get a fast, cheap and powerful computer in a 10 inch footprint? Eventually. But all the other options at that time will be faster and better.

    It sounds like you think computers are like cars – smaller cars should be faster than bigger cars, with all things being equal. Too bad chips don't work that way. Even in cars, the more powerful engines are bigger and use more gas…

  • Scott

    Back in the 90's when I built all my own desktops, all I would ever buy is amd cpu's. They where 1/2 the cost of intel. Without amd we might not have 64 bit cpu's and we might not even have duo cores. The only area where I have seen Intel beat amd is the atom. My Zino HD is an amazing little desktop with the AMD x2 1.5 ghz cpu and the amd 4330 graphics. I would love to see a liitle lower powered unit in a netbook. People try to put limits on what a netbook is, the truth it's what ever the oem decides to make it to be. Low power use is a must but that does not mean it needs to be slow. I have and will always support AMD but the truth is they might be a little late in this market. I guess only time will tell, low cost is amd 's specialty.

  • gman

    I'm not getting into that debate. If you want to sell youself short in terms of expectations, the go ahead. Intel loves you for that. Netbook isn't defined as underpowered. That's silly. In that case we would have to redifine pretty much every device because over time they get faster and faster. Think about it. Did I mention Intel loves you for spreading the good word?

  • Chance_Stevens

    This is great news but AMD is asking for a pass. The truth is that they've been making netbook processors for a while but since they know that they aren't as good they are saying that they will come out with a “real” netbook processor “soon.”

    The MV-40, L325, L335 are all netbook parts. Hopefully their next chip uses less power and they come up with drivers which made the video as good as they say it will be. ATI used to be plagued with weird drivers which would ruin performance for certain video cards.

    A part of me hopes they get it right and give Intel a real run for their money.

  • KitchenCookiesRock

    I don't think I'm selling myself short by understanding how the world works. I think you're expectations are out of line with the laws of physics and the realities of battery life, performance and physical space.

    If you had asked directly for the power of an 18 inch desktop replacement in 10 inches, then your argument would be laughed at and ignored immediately.

    If you're expressing your desire for a tricorder, you'll have to wait until star trek becomes reality.

    Life (and physics) simply doesn't work the way you want it to – that doesn't make me wrong for pointing it out.

    As for the artificial limits that intel has placed on netbooks in the past are gone. They have been gone for awhile – so I'm not sure your argument has any merit.

  • mlabrow

    18 Inch laptops are constrained by the same physics as 10 inch netbooks. All they have going for them is more thermal headroom because the case is bigger. Device size does not ultimately affect very much in terms of processing power unless you're going to use desktop parts in a laptop chassis which is what many 18″ laptops do. One cogent example of this would be the alienware 11.6″ 'laptop'.

    Intel still does place constraints on netbooks. Namely in not increasing the power or architecture of the Atom processor, it's locking out competing chipsets by refusing to license it's chip interfaces, and in so doing it's restricting the types and amount of available ram as well as PCIe bandwidth.

    Instead of working on more processing power, they're focusing on reducing it's power draw of Atom in order to enter into the MID and smartphone markets… They've met their target performance goal already, it's all just power draw now. Which is great, but it does a complete disservice to the existing netbook market.

    You could argue that CULV processors should be used in place of Atom processors, but those are based on a functionally dead architecture, and more expensive.

    So if Intel really wasn't placing restraints on the overall processing power of netbooks, they'd come out with a $75 nehalem based processor/chipset, which could advance with the rest of their product line, and then continue letting Atom go after smaller and smaller devices.

    This may happen if AMD enters the market with a higher performance, low cost, low power chip. They have an incentive to do so too, since they're already taking a pummeling in the mobile space as is, so they might as well attack Intel on this front as well. Until they get competition though, Intel has absolutely NO reason to improve the performance of the Atom processor since it would functionally cannibalize the rest of their mobile processor line in the process. Ultimately, I don't think, Intel really cares about netbooks, they're ultimately after the embedded and smartphone markets. Netbooks just allow them to monetize their existing research.

    Heck, just look at the term netbook, here I am arguing about the Atom processor, but it's irrelevant, because the term itself is hazy beyond belief, and just a product of marketing. To me the real definition of a netbook is: A cheap, light weight, long lasting, highly mobile laptop. Note that there's no maximum performance in that term. The performance really is just a function of the first term in the definition: cheap. As more processors become available to compete at even lower margins, we'll see faster and faster netbooks.

    There really aren't any insurmountable restraints imposed by the form factor itself (not really, in a world based on 32nm or smaller parts, size is pretty hard to argue). So the real constraints on netbook performance are just those imposed by the economics and marketing. Because hey, if they ever do come out with a 10″ nehelem based system, I'll bet you they won't call it a netbook. How could they charge a real premium for it, if they did?

  • KitchenCookiesRock

    I think we'll have to agree to disagree.
    CULV is no more 'out of date' than the atom architecture, *and* CULV was/is superior to atom clock for clock – just not in power draw.

    “in a world based on 32nm or smaller parts, size is pretty hard to argue”. YEAH, because the entire computer is composed of the CPU. Have you *ever* looked inside a computer? It's a lot more than CPU/HD/RAM. And would you really want to pay for a motherboard done at 32nm? I don't think you have any idea of the costs involved in technology creation/research/marketing/quality assurance. If you pay $50 for a chip the size of a nickel, and buy a 10inch computer at that cost per inch, you could easily get a fast computer at that size. but you couldn't pay for it.

    The m11x isn't remotely close to the m17x – if you claim that the *only* difference is thermal headroom, you're probably not informed enough to comment on it.

    Intel is a business, and allowed to license technology as it sees fit. Would you force toyota to share its technology with GM? If nvidia doesn't want to play ball with intel, why would intel *give* them a competitive advantage? Why should they (other than to satisfy your crazy desire)?

    I'll agree with your definition of a netbook: A cheap, light weight, long lasting, highly mobile laptop.

    Now, until some magical being overcomes the problem of having a high power chip with high power draw, and long battery life on a small 3 cell battery, I think you're out of luck having a high end core i7 chip in a 10 inch laptop AND long battery life AND a small package. Even than m11x 'netbook' you referenced has quite low CPU-processing power and is exceptionally thick and heavy compared to other similarly sized computers.

    Lets be realistic. We all want a job that pays us millions of dollars for doing very little work. We'd all like a supercomputer the size of a cell phone. Both are unrealistic … and even if it was possible, the cost of attaining either would be astronomic.

    In the 80s, a laptop was the size of a suitcase because of the physical constraints of the technology of the time. Your ideal computer isn't any more possible today than our current computers were possible 20 years ago.

    So stop whining about it. Or, at least get more educated before spouting off.

  • Tenier

    AMD has been saying this for the last 2 years, so where are they? AMD needs to face it, they are irrelevant in the mobile space on ALL levels. hell, even ARM makers matter more than AMD does.

    10-15watts is still way too much, yes you could argue its competitive with Atom/ION combo. but they key phrase here is “available next year”, Intel has already stated that that their 2011 platform Oak Trail will be fully HD capable. so once again AMD's advantage will be gone because they are always late to the party.

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  • gman

    Guys I really enjoyed reading your replies. I enjoy a good healthy debate.

    Kitchen, I must say, an 18 inch laptop squeezed into a 10 or 11 inch netbook? Well look at history. Seen photos of the first computer? And how powerful was that?

    My point is, you have your standard set WAY too low. There are politics at work regarding Atom and netbooks. However, my point is if you can't see how an 18″ laptop can fit in a netbook, then I don't think you have thought very hard about the history of computers. The common thread with technology? Smaller yet more powerful. I think you really underestimate what technology is capable of. I suggest you do a bit of searching of the history of computers. Yes, back in the day they would have laughed if you said that you should be able to have a full powerful computer that weighed less that 5 pounds. Impossible? You know the answer to that, so you need to change your perspective immediately ;-)

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  • KitchenCookiesRock

    Wow. So my point wasn't that it's impossible. My point is that TODAY, it's impossible and tomorrow isn't looking good.

    If in 1970 you had demanded a laptop by 1971 that was the size of a netbook today, people would laugh at you.

    And that's what you're doing. You're demanding technology from the futuuure….. so excuse me while I laugh at you.

  • gman

    You are putting words in my mouth. I'm not expecting an 18″ laptop in a 10 or 11″ netbook. I'm saying within grasp should be better gaming abilities, HD playback, and yes, faster Atom processor. I'm not naive enough to believe that the ability to do this isn't here now today. I believe it is here today. It's just that Intel hasn't had the push yet to do it. AMD is competition and they will certainly motivate Intel in magical ways. Perhaps you are satisfied with pathetic speed increases with each new Atom processor but I'm certainly not. I have higher standards than that. A faster Atom processor isn't like reinventing the wheel, although you make it sound like it's some kind of future technology.

  • BoloMKXXVIII

    I am pretty chip agnostic on my desktops, having both AMD and Intel chips. While I do pull for AMD (being the underdog), I think this is too little, too late. The incredibly fast rise of netbooks is about over. They will continue to sell, but their growth in the market will slow considerably. Also, ARM will have a good foothold in the market before AMD can sell any volume. If they were ready for the market a year ago they would do well. Now I wonder if they can even gain 10% of the market. Whatever they bring it had better be significantly better than what Intel is offering.

  • Cesar Cardoso

    If AMD hasn't spend an awful lot of time thinking how to pimp Geode…

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  • BoloMKXXVIII

    I am pretty chip agnostic on my desktops, having both AMD and Intel chips. While I do pull for AMD (being the underdog), I think this is too little, too late. The incredibly fast rise of netbooks is about over. They will continue to sell, but their growth in the market will slow considerably. Also, ARM will have a good foothold in the market before AMD can sell any volume. If they were ready for the market a year ago they would do well. Now I wonder if they can even gain 10% of the market. Whatever they bring it had better be significantly better than what Intel is offering.

  • Cesar Cardoso

    If AMD hasn't spend an awful lot of time thinking how to pimp Geode…

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