AMD introduces new laptop chips to close gap with Intel

AMD's new triple- and quad-core processors are part of a new Phenom II line that will boost application performance while reducing power consumption

Advanced Micro Devices on Wednesday announced new mobile processors as it tries to bridge the power and performance gap with Intel, while trying to lower laptop prices.

The company's new processors include its first triple-core and quad-core laptop processors as part of a new Phenom II line, which will boost application performance while reducing power consumption, AMD officials said. Mainstream laptops mostly come with dual-core chips, and adding cores brings more performance to users at lower prices.

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"We're able to hit triple- and quad-core price points at $799," said Leslie Sobon, vice president of marketing at AMD. Between 130 to 150 products are being designed around the new chips, which is a record for AMD.

The three quad-core and two triple-core Phenom II processors run at speeds between 1.6GHz and 2.3GHz and draw between 25 watts and 45 watts of power. The chips will be available in laptops from vendors including Dell, Hewlett-Packard and Lenovo starting later this month.

AMD also announced low-voltage Athlon II Neo and Turion II Neo processors for ultrathin laptops that run at speeds between 1.3GHz and 1.7GHz. The processors come in single-core and dual-core variants and draw between 12 watts and 15 watts of power.

The new laptop chips are an attempt by AMD to improve its weak market position and gain ground on Intel. AMD held a 12.1 percent market share in the first quarter of 2010 compared to 15 percent in the first quarter of 2009, according to IDC. Intel was the leader, holding an 87.8 percent laptop microprocessor market share in the first quarter of 2010, compared to the 84.3 percent market share from a year ago.

AMD's CEO Dirk Meyer last month acknowledged that the company was underrepresented in the laptop market, but added that the company was making architectural improvements to its chips that could improve battery life and performance of the machines.

Intel last year gained a competitive advantage by moving to a new manufacturing process to make chips faster and more power efficient. Intel in January launched new Core i3, i5 and i7 dual-core mobile processors for laptops. The company will soon release new laptop processors for ultrathin laptops.

AMD's triple- and quad-core offerings provide more options to buyers, AMD's Sobon said. Computing tasks like antivirus can be off-loaded to the third core, while leaving two cores to process other applications.

PC makers including Hewlett-Packard and Dell said Intel's package of chips facilitate longer battery life and better performance, but AMD's new chips provide better graphics and bang-for-the-buck with performance relative to price. Meanwhile, AMD has taken big steps to close the gap with Intel, executives from the PC makers said.

HP last week launched seven new ProBook business laptops based on AMD's new processors. Some power improvements have stretched AMD-based laptops' battery life beyond five hours, a 72 percent improvement from laptops with AMD's older chips. Intel-based laptops still offer performance advantages and battery life in excess of six hours, said Joanne Bugos, business notebook marketing manager at HP.

Laptops with AMD chips could be typically around 15 to 20 percent cheaper than Intel-based laptops, Bugos said. HP's new laptops include ProBook 4325s, 4425s and 4525s laptops, which are priced starting at $619 and will come with screens ranging from 13.3 inches to 15.6 inches. The HP ProBook 6445b, and 6555b laptops will be priced starting at $779, and will come between 14-inch and 15.6-inch screens.

AMD has started to address power and performance on its CPU and graphics offerings and is putting itself in a position of strength to catch up with Intel, said Lane McCullough, senior product planner at Dell. The PC maker likes what is seeing in AMD's future, he said.

Dell announced new Inspiron laptops based on AMD chips including the M301z and the M501R models, which will be available with ATI integrated graphics. The laptops will offer storage of up to 640GB and support up to 8GB of memory. The M301z will come with a 13.3-inch display and include processors up to AMD's dual-core Turion II Neo K625 processor, which runs at 1.5GHz. The laptop will be available in a few weeks in Europe, Japan and China. The M501R will come with a 15.6-inch screen and include up to AMD's quad-core processors. It will be available later this year in Europe and the United States.

Lenovo launched the IdeaPad Z565 laptop that will include AMD's new chips. The laptop comes with a 15.6-inch screen, and provides four hours of battery life with a AMD Turion II N530 dual-core processor and a six-cell battery.

Lenovo declined to make comparisons between battery life provided by systems based on AMD and Intel processors.

"There are many configuration variables that play a factor in battery life, so Lenovo cannot comment on which processor offers an advantage," a Lenovo spokeswoman said in an email.

Intel chips are better for tasks that need intense computation, said Nathan Brookwood, principal analyst at Insight 64. But AMD holds some advantages, like better graphics capabilities, he said.

"What it comes down to is that folks who are sensitive to graphics and 3D may prefer the AMD solution," Brookwood said. "But for a lot of people who don't have strong requirements on either of those, systems based on AMD and Intel chips are almost indistinguishable."

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