AMD jumps into the netbook fray

AMD announced that it was developing processors for netbooks, aiming to supplant Intel's dominance in the space.

Advanced Micro Devices is jumping into the mini-notebook space, delivering processors starting in 2009 for small laptops that can run basic applications like Web surfing and e-mail, the company said Thursday.

The processors will be designed to fit in laptops with screens smaller than 10 inches and targeted at users who want secondary laptops, AMD said.

However, the processors will be powerful enough to provide more than a basic "Web experience," said Randy Allen, senior vice president of the computing solutions group at AMD, during a speech at the company's financial analyst day in Sunnyvale, California. The event was webcast.

AMD's plans are directly targeted at supplanting Intel's dominance in the netbook space, although AMD referred to it as the "mini-notebook" market. Intel's Atom currently is available in most netbooks, like in Asus' Eee PC, with other companies like Via vying for a spot with its Nano processor.

Atom chips can also be found in mobile devices like MIDs (mobile Internet devices). However, it wasn't immediately clear if AMD is entering the mobile device market with its new chips. That market is rife with competition from companies such as Nvidia.

AMD's processors for small laptops over the next two years will include dual-core and support for DDR3 memory, and varying amounts of cache. The first chip, code-named Conesus, will support 1M byte of cache and be released in 2009. Conesus will be followed by Geneva, which will support 2M bytes of cache and is due for release in 2010.

The chips will also be designed in a package that fits in the more powerful ultraportables, which are small laptops designed to provide a full PC experience.

AMD's confirmation quashes speculation that the company had abandoned the development of a low-power processor. Last year, AMD said it was working on Bobcat, a chip described by the company as "designed for maximum energy efficiency and performance-per-watt for next-generation mobile devices, scaling as low as 1 watt."

Company officials have since confirmed and denied Bobcat's development at multiple stages. That led to speculation among industry observers that it had abandoned the project as it recovered from consecutive quarterly losses and restructuring.

AMD's netbook chips could potentially succeed the low-power Geode x86 system-on-chip, which is included in One Laptop Per Child's XO laptop.

The company has also delayed by two years its much-hyped Fusion laptop chip, which combines a graphics processing unit and CPU on a single chip. Originally due in 2009, the company now hopes to release a chip similar to Fusion in 2011. The new chip, code-named Llano, is targeted at mainstream laptops and desktops and will include four cores and 4M bytes of cache.

Filling the void created by Fusion's delay are the dual-core Caspian and quad-core Champlain chips due for release in 2009 and 2010, respectively. Neither chips are projected to combine GPUs and CPUs on a single die.

Other new chips for 2011 announced by the company include Ontario for ultraportables and small laptops and Orochi for high-end desktops. Chips will be manufactured using the 32-nanometer process starting in 2011, which could make them more power efficient than earlier chips, which will be manufactured using the 45-nanometer process.

AMD will continue to push ahead in the chip market, while divesting its consumer electronics business over 2009. It also plans a refresh its graphics cards in the upcoming year based on the latest 40-nanometer manufacturing process, said Dirk Meyer, president and CEO, during a speech at the conference.

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