AMD Rolls Out Next-Gen Chips for Notebooks, Tablets

The vendor's Elite A-Series "Richland" chips offer greater graphics capabilities and improve power consumption over the current "Trinity" processors.

Advanced Micro Devices is launching its next generation of computer chips that officials say will fuel great user experiences and interesting system designs from OEMs by offering new features while driving down power consumption.

With the first of its new Elite A-Series accelerated processing units (APUs), AMD officials are pointing to capabilities that will help drive system features such as facial log-in and gesture recognition, as well as improve battery life and system performance. APU is AMD's tag for chips that feature integrated graphics technology.

"What we want to do is give people a pretty cool user experience," Kevin Lensing, director of notebook products for AMD's Client Business Unit, said in a recent Webcast press conference, noting that "gesture control will become as [ubiquitous] as touch is today."

The "Richland" APUs, which were first unveiled at the 2013 Consumer Electronics Show in January, are the follow-on to AMD's "Trinity" processors, and like Trinity, the new offerings will be based on the company's Piledriver core, which offered significant improvements over the previous Bulldozer core in such areas as energy efficiency.

The Richland chips, which used AMD's Radeon HD 8000-Series graphics, offer better playback and streaming of video; CPU power consumption during video playback was reduced by 47 percent when compared with Trinity, according to AMD. Additionally, laptops powered by the chips enable better battery life, from 5.7 hours of high-definition video playback to 10 hours while resting. When idle, the Richland APUs use 5.2 watts; Trinity uses 5.5 watts.

AMD's Elite A10 chip offers a 50 percent performance improvement over Intel's Core i7 processor, according to Lensing.

The new chips offer new features that leverage the compute and graphics cores, such as AMD's Face Login, which enables users to use facial-recognition technology and a webcam to quickly sign into Windows or Websites that require log-ins, such as social networking sites like Facebook and email services like Gmail.

AMD Gesture Control—again leveraging a webcam, as well as advanced imaging processing and machine-vision algorithms—lets users employ hand gestures for commands for basic tasks such as email, media players, e-readers and browsers. The tasks enabled are fairly basic now, but will become more sophisticated in future generations, Lensing said. In addition, AMD's Screen Mirror technology lets users wirelessly share photos, videos, HD media streams and Web pages.

Notebooks from various OEMs featuring the new Richland APUs should appear on store shelves starting this month, and low-voltage versions—code-named Kabini and Temesh—for tablets and ultrathin notebooks will ship in the first half of this year, Lensing said.

Such ultramobile devices are a key part of AMD's turnaround plan as officials look to get the company on stronger financial footing. In October 2012, CEO Rory Read said the company was planning to cut 15 percent of its workforce and focus on several key areas, including such devices as ultrathin notebooks and tablets, as well as embedded devices and dense servers for such environments as high-performance computing.

During a conference call in January to talk about the company's latest quarterly financial numbers, company officials said AMD should return to profitability in the second half of the year. While the company undergoes its restructuring, in the notebook and tablet space, it's still getting squeezed by a larger Intel and an ARM whose low-power chip designs are found in most tablets and smartphones.

With Richland, AMD is offering a solid product that includes interesting features, strong graphics capabilities and improved power efficiency, all good things for the notebook and tablet spaces, Roger Kay, principal analyst with Endpoint Technologies Associates, told eWEEK.

However, Kay noted that even as AMD works to improve its offerings and restructure itself, the competition against Intel and ARM is fierce, and AMD is not in a strong position.

"It's not a great hand that they're holding right now," he said.

AMD did a good job buying graphics technology vendor ATI Technologies in 2006, and over time integrating graphics capabilities onto the chip with the CPU, Kay said. In addition, the company still has customers—there are still PCs, notebooks and servers that are powered by AMD processors—and officials were smart to spin off the manufacturing business in 2009 in a move that created Globalfoundries.

"They still have a value proposition, and the strongest is they represent an alternative to Intel," Kay said, adding that systems makers want more than one option in the x86 chip space. "Probably the strongest force holding them up right now is the OEMs' desire not to be left facing Intel alone."