AMD Makes Commercial PC Push with New Pro A-Series APUs

The chip vendor's latest "Carrizo" processors are the cornerstone of AMD's efforts to gain share in the competitive business PC space against Intel.

commerical PCs

Advanced Micro Devices is making commercial PCs the top priority in its drive to consistent profitability after years of having the bulk of its PC revenue come from the more volatile consumer market.

AMD has been talking up the capabilities of its accelerated processing units (APUs) that lend themselves to the corporate PC space, and last year the chip maker established a unit dedicated to the market. It also launched the Pro A-Series brand of APUs for the commercial segment, and between 2013 and 2014, AMD doubled the number of designs from OEMs that use its chips and saw record shipments into commercial platforms.

On Sept. 29, the company unveiled its latest Pro A-Series processors, formerly codenamed "Carrizo Pro" (for notebooks) and "Godavari Pro" (for desktops). The new APUs—which have both compute and graphics cores integrated on the same chip—offer better performance and power efficiency than the previous "Kaveri"-based processors and are competitive with rival Intel's Core processors. They also cost less, offer enhanced security features and are designed to work well with Microsoft's new Windows 10 operating system, the company said.

The chips also make a statement about AMD's commitment to the business PC space. That hasn't always been the case, according to Kevin Lensing, corporate vice president and general manager of AMD's Client Business Unit, who added that "commercial was not always a consistent focus of the company." However, that's changed.

"The commercial market is core to our business, and core to our corporate strategy," Lensing said during an event with journalists and analysts at AMD’s Sunnyvale, Calif., facilities earlier this month. "It's part of who we are and who we're becoming at AMD."

That will be important to the company as it looks to turn around its financial numbers, which over the past few years have been hurt badly by the downturn in the global PC market. A significant amount of the chip maker's revenues in the past had been tied to PCs, and consumer PCs in particular. AMD officials have worked over the past several years to reduce the company's reliance on PC revenues. Last year about 60 percent of the company's revenues came from PCs, while the other 40 percent was generated by such segments as semi-custom chips, the data center and the embedded market.

That said, the PC market impacts what happens at AMD. Slowing demand for consumer PCs hurt revenues in the second quarter, even as other segments performed well. IDC analysts said last month that they don't expect the PC market to see an upturn until 2017, when Windows 10 becomes more pervasive and new systems with Intel's "Skylake" processors flood the market.

Lensing said that while consumers tend to look at other computing devices besides PCs, businesses are different.

"The commercial market is strong," Lensing said. "There is little doubt that in the commercial environment, PCs will reign supreme."

AMD's ongoing struggle also has fueled industry speculation about the company's future, including reports this week that AMD has been talking with private equity firm Silver Lake Partners to sell 25 percent of its business.

However, during the event in Sunnyvale, Lensing and other executives noted the long-term plans that PC OEMs like Hewlett-Packard and gaming console makers like Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo have made to build and sell AMD-based systems. For gaming systems, they are seven- to 10-year bets, he said.

"That's a powerful statement," Lensing said.

Now AMD officials are hoping system makers will make similar commitments to its business PC processors. At the event in California, officials with Hewlett-Packard and Microsoft both talked about the work they did with AMD regarding the latest Pro A-Series APUs, with much of the focus being on the security features.

The new Pro A-Series APUs, based on the new "Excavator" core design, offer a 50 percent improvement in performance over the previous "Steamroller" core even though the die size remained at 28 nanometers. In addition, they offer a 66 percent improvement in graphics-per-watt performance and up to twice the battery life, officials said.

"This is absolutely the best opportunity we've had in commercial," said John Hampton, director of product management in the Client Business Unit.