Advanced Micro Devices is preparing to launch its much anticipated “Yukon” platform for lower-cost, ultraportable laptops at the 2009 CES, and the chip maker has lined up Hewlett-Packard as the first PC vendor to offer a consumer laptop based on the new platform.
The AMD Yukon platform, which the company plans to officially announce Jan. 6, consists of a new processor-the AMD Athlon Neo MV-40 running at 1.6GHz-along with an AMD chip set and a discrete ATI Radeon HD3410 graphics card. The Yukon platform also offers integrated graphics for even lower-priced notebooks.
To support the AMD launch, HP is offering a 12.1-inch laptop-the HP Pavilion dv2 notebook-that includes the new Yukon platform, up to 4GB of DDR2 (double data rate 2) main memory and a hard disk drive that ranges from 160GB of data storage to 500GB. The HP Pavilion dv2, which weighs about 3.8 pounds, also supports Microsoft Windows Vista as well as 802.11a/b/g and draft-n wireless technology.
The starting price for the HP Pavilion dv2 is $699.
At the end of 2008, AMD announced that it would expand its laptop offerings by carving out a space between fully configured, mainstream notebooks and the types of “netbooks” that have been entering the marking since Intel announced its Atom processor and platform less than a year ago.
While AMD is targeting those laptops with screen sizes between 12 and 14 inches, the company is hoping to offer a platform that makes those notebooks lighter, thinner and less expensive. In addition to weighing less than 4 pounds, the HP dv2 notebook is less than 1 inch thick.
In this case, AMD is not competing against the Intel Atom, but Intel’s line of more expensive low-volt and ultra-low-volt processors that are used in high-end PCs such as the Lenovo ThinkPad X300 and X301.
“The space that we see is between the sort of mininotebooks that use the Intel Atom processor and the high-end, ultraportable notebooks like the [Apple] MacBook Air or the Lenovo X300 in the commercial space.” said David McAfee, a marketing manager for AMD. “There is a gap of products that have come into the market, and we believe we have the right technology and the right feature set to deliver a platform into the space and allow OEMs to build systems for this market.”
Although Intel helped create a new market for low-cost, very portable laptops, the market is now seeing a number of other players rushing in. In addition to Intel and AMD, Qualcomm, Texas Instruments and Freescale Semiconductor have all announced netbook and mininotebook platforms that use ARM processors. At the same time, Nvidia has developed a chip set that combines its own graphics and the Intel Atom processor.
John Spooner, an analyst with Technology Business Research, said AMD’s Yukon platform is attempting to expand the notebook market by allowing OEMs to build low-cost, lightweight PCs that function similarly to the Lenovo ThinkPad X300 line.
“What AMD is trying to do is popularize the lightweight consumer portable,” said Spooner. “There are not too many machines out there in the consumer space that offer this type of performance and are lightweight. … I think [AMD] will be reasonably successful with it.”
Looking to SMBs
What Spooner believes AMD needs to do is look beyond the consumer market and toward small and midsize businesses that want to buy their employees lightweight notebooks but not pay a premium for the technology.
McAfee did note that AMD is looking to bring Yukon into specific vertical markets, such as education and government, in the coming years, although he did not offer a specific time frame.
With the Yukon platform, AMD is looking to separate itself from both the Intel Atom and its low-volt offerings when it comes to graphics. With Yukon, AMD is offering a choice of using the integrated graphics with the RS690E chip set or a discrete graphics card such as the Radeon HD3410.
The HP dv2 notebook, for example, uses the discrete ATI graphics card.
The use of discrete graphics should allow the Yukon platform to handle Microsoft DirectX APIs and enable the laptop to handle video decoding much faster. The HP dv2 laptop can also support an HDMI (High-Definition Multimedia Interface) port as well.
In order to keep the cost and the thermal envelope down, AMD turned to its older K8 microarchitecture for the Athlon Neo processor. In addition to its 1.6GHz clock speed, the Athlon Neo is built on a 65-nanometer manufacturing process and supports 512KB of Level 2 cache. The processor also works within a 15-watt TDP (thermal design power) envelope.
This low-power Athlon Neo meant that AMD could build its Yukon platform to work within a total TDP of 35 watts.
Later in 2009, AMD plans to offer a dual-core version of the Athlon Neo, although no specific date has been set. Also later this year, AMD will offer another platform-“Congo”-that will upgrade the chip set and possibly offer users the dual-core version of the processor.
Further down AMD’s product road map, the Athlon Neo will be replaced by a processor built on a new processing core architecture now code-named “Bobcat.”