Can AMD's vision end PC purchasing nightmares?

AMD to put focus on users instead of components

Chipmaker AMD wants to change how PCs are purchased, replacing tech jargon with a simple description of what a particular computer should be used for. If successful, AMD will put the focus on users instead of what's inside their computer.

By dividing what it says are now 22 categories into four, the company hopes customers will find it easier to buy AMD computers than those using chips from rival Intel Corp.

Hang around Dick Smith for a while and you'll recognize that AMD is onto something. Buying "the right" combination of performance and price is way too difficult, largely because of Intel's naming scheme.

There are so many processors available today that customers can't tell them apart, much less decide on the best combination of CPU and graphics processor for a specific purpose.

As a result, even fairly sophisticated consumers (and bloggers) end up buying on price more than anything else. Many are never really sure they didn't purchase more (or less) computer than they actually need. Not a good way to sell things, but this is where Intel has taken the PC industry.

Microsoft took a swipe at this problem by creating a performance index used to determine whether a particular machine could or could not run the Windows Vista OS and applications. The index never caught on as a selling tool, but told me my then two-year-old Dell workstation was barely up to the task of running Vista, allowing me to set my expectations accordingly.

AMD wants to do Microsoft one better by creating four levels of performance for a customer to choose from:

  • Vision Basic
  • Vision Premium -- Suitable for digital media consumption
  • Vision Ultimate -- Suitable for digital media creation
  • Vision Black -- High-end HD desktops, presumably for gamers

It is not clear how many PC hardware manufacturers will share AMD's "vision," though products are due in time for the Oct. 22 introduction of Windows 7, the company said.

The program submerges the chip vendor's brand and encourages hardware companies to develop specific platforms for various purposes, something likely to be popular in an industry where credit for innovation has usually been given almost exclusively to Intel and Microsoft.

Intel, meanwhile, is trying to simplify its own processor banding, though not to the level AMD is attempting.

Our view: This is a good idea that may not accomplish much. First, the naming system seems vague in its own way. Something makes me think a Vision Basic machine will be just fine for most people's digital media consumption needs. Consumers may see this as creative upselling more than really useful information.

We'll have to see the system in use to determine how meaningful the designations will be. Maybe Vision "Good," "Better," and "Best" is how people will end up thinking about these ratings.

And, of course, there will be no easy comparison between AMD Vision PCs and Intel-based hardware.

I also wonder how AMD will deal with the notion that a particular CPU/graphics processor combination may be a Vision Black today but only a Vision Premium a year from now?

Presumably, by submerging the specifics, AMD is hoping customers won't notice when machines are de-rated over time.

And there is Intel to consider: Does mighty Intel somehow consider a confused marketplace to be in its interest? Or has Intel allowed product development, branding, and marketing to run amok? I think it's the latter and it means Intel is ripe for being slapped around a bit.

AMD will be doing everyone a favour if it helps Intel become more focused on why people purchase computers rather than what's inside them. Even if it's Intel Inside. (Imagine the music logo here).

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David Coursey

PC World (US online)
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