AMD to Wake Up Boring PCs

With its new line of Low-power chips, the company hopes to foster diverse desktop designs

Advanced micro devices is about to roll out a new line of low-power processors to encourage a move away from the one-size-fits-all desktop PC.

The chip maker on May 16 announced a line of low-power processors for desktop PCs, including 35-watt chips such as a dual-core Athlon 64 X2 3800+ processor, as part of a broader initiative its quietly working on to foster diverse PC designs.

The low-power chips are designed to assist manufacturers in creating smaller, thinner desktops for the corporate market and consumers.

But AMD executives have said they also expect the chips to popularize alternatives to desktop PCs. One such alternative is what they call stateless PCs—desktops that come without hard drives and instead rely on servers to host applications and data.

AMD executives envision a new crop of computers that offer businesses more options for outfitting employees.

"I expect us to change the game in 06. We actually think the muscle thats being put behind shifting commercial clients to dual-core [processors] could be a flawed strategy here," said Marty Seyer, corporate vice president of commercial business and performance computing in the Microprocessor Solutions Sector at AMD, in Sunnyvale, Calif.

Instead, Seyer said that while some users could benefit from beefy, dual-core machines, many others could get by with small desktops or devices such as the so-called stateless PC. This "good-enough" performance offers "a range of possibilities, from thinness to traditional clients," Seyer said.

Among the scenarios are diskless PCs for security-conscious companies or PCs that separate their business software from a workers personal applications with virtualization, Seyer said.

Initially, AMDs low-power line will include 10 processors that consume either 35 watts or 65 watts across its Sempron, Athlon 64 and dual-core Athlon 64 X2 lines. AMDs desktop chips normally use about 90 watts.

The chip makers 35-watt line will include several single-core Sempron models, including the Sempron 3000+ and the Sempron 3400+, as well as a single-core Athlon 64 3500+ and the dual-core Athlon 64 X2 3800+.

The chips will range in price from $101 for the Sempron 3000+ to $364 for the X2 3800+ chip, said AMD executives.

AMD also will offer an all-dual-core line of 65-watt chips. The chips, which parallel the Athlon 64 X2 line, include 3800+ to 4800+ X2 models that range in price from $323 to $671.

The low-power chips will be based on AMDs latest chip circuitry, often called ref F, meaning they use its new socket AM2 and have the capability of working with DDR2 (double data rate 2) SDRAM (synchronous dynamic RAM). Thus, the low-power chips wont arrive before AMD unveils its standard-wattage rev F/AM2 desktop chips, which are due in the near future, AMD officials said.

The 35-watt chip line, meanwhile, should allow for more ultra-small-form-factor desktops to be designed with cheaper desktop parts versus using notebook processors, which tend to cost more and dont always deliver as much performance.

AMDs larger rival Intel has been showing off small-form-factor desktop designs independent of the launch of its vPro brand for business desktops.

Small-form-factor machines will gain favor with corporations and, to a lesser extent, with consumers, market researcher IDC predicts, because they take up less space and generally produce less heat and noise than minitowers. As part of the shift, so-called thin clients will also see a jump among corporate customers, IDC predicts.

AMD will find its rival going after many of the same markets. Intel plans to deliver a new line of low-power chips for desktops and notebooks this summer.

Intels Core 2 Duo notebook chip, otherwise known as Merom and due in August, will use about 30 watts, company officials have said. Intel will place Core 2 Duo chips into its vPro platform for corporate desktops.

Intel is pitching vPro as the base for mainstream business desktops for the 12 months following its introduction in the third quarter of 2006. Merom chips, meanwhile, could show up in ultrasmall desktops.

For its part, AMDs client transformation initiative, led by Seyer, is expected to come to the surface sometime later in 2006.

"Yes, the thinnest-possible client may be one of the many usage scenarios that we cater to with this—our [transformation] road map. But theres a spectrum [among] your PDA, the thinnest thing, and a PC blade in a data center or even a server that … is in a data center," Seyer said. "You will see us introduce whatever were going to introduce based on this client reinvention."

The Incredibly Shrinking Desktop

* During 2005, PC makers shipped 31 million minitowers in the United States, representing 77 percent of U.S. desktop shipments, but only 5 million small-form-factor desktops.

* By 2009, small-form-factor shipments will increase to 15 million units, or about 42 percent of U.S. PC shipments, while minitowers will fall to 11 million units. Ultra-small-form-factor desktops—similar in size to Apples Mac mini—will grow as well, reaching about 4 million units, compared with fewer than 1 million in 2005.