AMD Processor Roadmap Points To Tablets

Content to let rival Intel lead the way, AMD plans to release Krishna and Wichita accelerated processing units in 2012.

Antone Gonsalves, Contributor

November 10, 2010

3 Min Read

Advanced Micro Devices' latest product roadmap shows that the chipmaker is preparing to enter the emerging market for tablet-style computers, but at the pace of a follower, not a technology leader.

AMD released its roadmap Tuesday during its annual Financial Analyst Day at the company's Sunnyvale, Calif., headquarters. The company's plans, as one would expect, includes processors with more cores, more memory and better performance-per-watt.

But AMD's preparations for the tablet market, which is expected to grow quickly over the next few years, show the company is willing to let Intel lead the way before jumping in with processors that will likely be low-cost workhorses that get the job done without offering too many frills.

"AMD meets market demand, while Intel tries to be the pioneer," Greg Richardson, analyst for Technology Business Research, told InformationWeek.

Rather than be the first to market, AMD plans to release processors for tablets and netbooks in 2012. Code-named Krishna and Wichita, the chips will be based on 28-nanometer technology and will be what AMD calls "accelerated processing units." APUs combine the graphics processor and CPU on the same piece of silicon for better performance.

All AMD processors by the end of 2012 will be based on one of two new core designs, code-named Bulldozer and Bobcat. The former is aimed at high-performance desktops, workstations and servers, while the latter is targeted at PCs that require low-power chips, such as tablets and smaller, lighter laptops. AMD plans to releases its first APUs, which will be based on the new core designs, starting next year.

In the tablet market, AMD will be about a year behind Intel, which goes into production this year on processors based on its next-generation microarchitecture, code-named Sandy Bridge. The new 32-nm design will be the foundation of Intel's second-generation Core processor family and will also be used in tablet-bound chips. Sandy Bridge processors are expected to be available early next year, starting in laptops and desktops.

AMD's later entry does not mean the chipmaker is behind its rival. Instead, the company appears to be content in letting Intel be the first to prove that the x86 microarchitecture, a long-time standard in PCs, can be a player in tablets. Tablets available today, including Apple's iPad, use ARM processors, low-power chips that dominate the smartphone market.

Given ARM's early lead, it's going to take lots of marketing and technological skill on Intel's part to prime the tablet market for x86. "They're moving onto a highway where cars are already moving very quickly," Richardson said.

Once Intel creates a market, AMD is expected to move in with processors that follow the company's typical strategy of low cost and no-frills functionality that gets the job done. Both features will be important for tablets, which are relatively inexpensive and are less about the hardware, and more about running the software that differentiates individual products.

"I believe there's an opportunity for AMD in tablets," Richardson said.

AMD's roadmap includes more than tablets. The company plans also to release in 2012 a CPU code-named Terramar that will scale to 20 cores in mainstream two- and four-processor server platforms. For one- and two-core platforms favored in cloud computing environments, AMD plans to release a processor code-named Sepang that will scale to 10 cores.

For mainstream and performance laptops, AMD plans to release an APU code-named Trinity, which will be based on the Bulldozer microarchitecture. A Trinity APU also will be available for mainstream desktops.

Finally, its first Bulldozer core-based processor for hardcore gamers and computer enthusiasts will also ship in 2012. The chip is code-named Komodo.

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