AMD Launches Low-Power Beema, Mullins Notebook, Tablet APUs

The chip vendor is looking to become a larger player in the tablet and convertible PC market that also is being eyed by rival Intel.

Advanced Micro Devices officials are officially launching their latest low-power mobile processors for mainstream and entry-level notebooks and tablets, saying the "Beema" and "Mullins" chips not only offer greater performance and energy efficiency than comparable offerings from larger rival Intel, but also offer innovations around security, performance and power.

AMD executives have been talking about the Beema and Mullins accelerated processing units (APUs) since late last year, and during a conference call this month with analysts and journalists to talk about the company's first-quarter financial numbers, CEO Rory Read and other officials said they expect the third-generation chips to give AMD a greater reach into a range of form factors, from tablets to 2-in-1 systems, which can be used as either a traditional notebook or tablet.

The new APUs will combine with the upcoming high-end "Kaveri" chips to give AMD a strong portfolio of silicon that OEMs and white-box makers can leverage in a highly competitive tablet space and a PC market that is showing signs of stabilization after a couple of years of declining sales, executives said.

"When we look at sort of what we're doing with our product portfolio, it's really about building a balanced portfolio," Lisa Su, senior vice president and general manager of AMD's Global Business Units, said during the April 17 earnings call. "Clearly low-end tablets are very competitive and we are not going after the very low end of the space, and we're looking at a balanced portfolio around both profitability and share. So for Mullins and Beema, I think we have a strong sort of design wins for those products. … What we're looking to do with those products is really get a clear portfolio mix, so we'll be very aggressive at the low end where we need to be for the entry-level notebooks. But we want to balance that with enough profitability off the stack, and we think that the performance of these products, particularly Beema, that's very well reaching up further than we had before with our previous generation 'Kabini.'"

Beema and Mullins—officially called 2014 AMD Mainstream and Low-Power Mobile APUs, respectively—come with two to four CPU cores based on the company's Puma+ microarchitecture and 128 Radeon R Series GPU cores based on AMD's Graphics Core Next architecture, which officials said brings faster performance, better image quality and lower power consumption than competing chips and significant improvements over AMD's current "Kabini" and "Temash" APUs. They run as fast as 2.2GHz (Mullins) and 2.4GHz (Beema).

Graphics technology is playing an increasingly larger role in improving the user experience, and AMD has an advantage over competitors like Intel, according to Kevin Lensing, senior director of mobility solutions at AMD's Client Business Unit. Pointing to the graphics technology in Intel's "Bay Trail" systems-on-a-chip (SoCs), Lensing said the chip maker was following AMD's efforts.

"They're too late and they're not good enough to do what we have done," Lensing said during a press briefing on Beema and Mullins earlier this month.

The Beema APUs have 50 percent better graphics performance than Intel's Pentium "Haswell U" chips and three times the graphics performance of the Pentium "Bay Trail M" SoCs, according to AMD. The Mullins chips brings better graphics than Intel's Core i3 processors, officials said.

The contracting PC market, where sales continue to slow because of the growing popularity of tablets, is forcing AMD, Intel and other tech vendors to find new growth avenues. Officials with both chip makers this month reported a slowing in the PC sales declines, due in part to organizations refreshing their systems and ditching Microsoft's aged Windows XP. The companies also say there is growing enthusiasm for the new form factors OEMs are developing based on the vendors' new chips.