AMD Chases New Form Factors With Low-power Chips

Advanced Micro Devices is getting ready to put Neo chips in low-power desktop products, upping the ante in its battle with rival Intel, which offers processors for similar devices.

AMD originally designed Neo for products like ultrathin laptops, thin and light laptops that can deliver full functionality at affordable prices. However the chip designer is now expanding the chip's use to all-in-one PCs and nettops, which are small, low-cost desktop PCs the size of a hardcover book. Intel offers Atom processors that are already being used in similar systems.

The main target for the Neo chips remains ultrathin laptops, but some PC makers are putting the processors in nettops and all-in-ones, said Bob Grim, director of client marketing for AMD. Neo chips are on motherboards, so they are small enough to incorporate in desktops that draw less power.

"We've known all along that this type of technology would really work well in multiple platforms and multiple types of form factors," Grim said. The first products later this year with Neo chips could be all-in-one PCs, which incorporate a CPU, motherboard and monitor in one box to which the mouse and keyboard are attached.

Desktop users demand better performance and graphics compared to laptop users, Grim said. Desktops with Neo chips will allow users to watch full high-definition movies and play graphics-intensive games like World of Warcraft and Quake, Grim said.

"These CPUs perform better than the Atom processor, and the graphics are superior. These things ... can play Blu-rays, they can play games," Grim said.

AMD introduced a Neo line of chips with a single core in January, and in May added dual-core versions. The chips are only available in Hewlett-Packard's DV2Z ultrathin laptop, with laptops from other PC makers due in September. The dual-core chips run at 1.6GHz and include between 512KB and 1MB of L2 cache. The Neo chips come with a platform that AMD plans to upgrade to improve performance and graphics.

AMD's Neo platform may hold an advantage over Intel's Atom platform when it comes to graphics capabilities due to a more advanced graphics core, said Dean McCarron, principal analyst at Mercury Research. But Intel plans to move the graphics core from the chipset into the Atom chip in the future, which could improve overall graphics capabilities.

PC makers -- like Acer -- are also experimenting with Nvidia's Ion platform, which couples the Atom processor with Nvidia's advanced graphics core, allowing users to view high-definition movies on Intel-based nettops.

Intel did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

But desktops based on Intel's Atom and AMD's Neo chips serve different audiences, McCarron said. Atom-based nettops, for example, are meant to be low-power Internet appliances, while AMD-based nettops would draw more power but offer better performance and graphics. With that in mind, AMD has to worry about Neo cannibalizing the sales of its mainstream Sempron and Athlon chips, he said.

Nevertheless, AMD's choice to put Neo in nettops and all-in-ones plays to the chip designer's strengths, McCarron said.

"It's absolutely relevant. It's playing to AMD's long-term strength that they have been strong in desktop and notebook, and they have been strong in low-cost desktop," he said.

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