AMD could position its low power Brazos chips for use in tablets

When I spoke with AMD recently about the company’s new Brazos chips including the low power AMD Ontario and Zacate processors, the company made it clear that while there was nothing stopping PC makers from using these chips in tablets, they were really designed with low power laptop and desktop computers in mind. While most companies in the PC space are looking at tablets (and phones) as the next big thing(s), AMD figured it would focus on the current big thing and try to produce some chips which could take some market share away from Intel.

That reasoning makes sense for a company that’s currently in second place. But it doesn’t look good to shareholders if you’re deliberately ignoring a hot new market segment, and that may have been part of the reason that former AMD CEO Dirk Meyer was booted from his job earlier this month.

It may also have something to do with Interim CEO Thomas Seifert’s comments during a recent earnings call. CNET reports that Seifert is suggesting that AMD’s chips make sense for next-generation tablets as consumers start to look for devices with higher performance graphics than you can get from a typical machine with an Intel Atom chip.

It’s probably hard to make a direct comparison between AMD’s chips and competitor NVIDIA’s increasingly popular Tegra 2 platform, since Brazos chips are based on x86 architecture while Tegra 2 is an ARM-based chip. You can’t currently run Windows on ARM-based chips, although that’s set to change in the future. While you can run Android on x86, it’s probably overkill to use a Brazos chip in an Android tablet when devices with Tegra 2 or competing chips from Samsung, Qualcomm, Texas Instruments, Freescale, and others can all handle 1080p HD video playback.

Still, it’s good to see that AMD is thinking about the space more seriously now. It will likely be another few years before the company has a chip designed specifically for tablets and/or phones, but there’s no reason AMD shouldn’t be trying to push its current line of chips as competition for Intel’s latest Atom chips in the tablet space just as it’s doing in the netbook space.

  • Anonymous

    AMD’s Brazos may be overkill for Android but ARM processors are finally reaching the performance level needed to run a full OS properly, as can be seen with the tests like those done with ports of linux distros like Ubuntu’s 10.10, with the Unity interface, on systems like the Toshiba AC100.

    So we’ll be seeing more and more OS options in mobile devices, regardless of processor type, within the next 2 years, and the eventual port of Windows should finally make it just a question of performance and what trade offs suite us the best.

  • John Q. Public

    If anyone at AMD had any brains they would have licensed ARM and married it to their Radeon GPUs just like Nvidia did.

    • Anonymous

      Note the original Tegra was pretty much a failure and two years later they are barely getting the Tegra 2 into products and are just months away from announcing Tegra 3.

      The mobile market isn’t a easy market to get into and it takes more than just slapping a ARM core with a GPU to make a competitive product.

    • Jnd

      Qualcomm’s Ardeno is based on Radeon, too bad AMD sold it

  • fugue

    So much can be done with an x86 added to a tablet. ARM is great, while I view tablets also as portable monitors (preferrably with video-out to larger monitors), with a keyboard that they should be able be added on. Why move away from the concept of a multi-purpose computing to limit one’s abilities just because computers and their peripheral devices can do more functions? The general purpose computer is replacing the phone, not the other way around. That said, ARM is a good architecture and either should focus on general purpose rather than limited functionality and operating systems.

    • Anonymous

      The issue isn’t really one of moving away from multi-purpose computing but moving away from multi-purpose form factor to specific designs for specific usage scenarios.

      All these devices are getting more powerful but how people use them is basically getting compartmentalized. Consequently causing people to use multiple devices even if those devices have a lot of overlap in functionality.

      But the market also seems to be adapting to this and we’re now seeing more “transformable” devices that either with a dock or convertible parts can change their form factor for different usage scenarios.

  • bob

    wow talk about fate….recession hit AMD is forced to sell off their ARM division, now ARM is hot, nvidia enters ARM market and AMD is basically screwed out of it. Its a shame, AMD couldve done really well there, and demolished intel.