AMD Athlon Neo: The New Ultra-thin Platform

January 6, 2009 | 07:47

Tags: #64 #65nm #athlon #atom #cache #cheap #congo #cpu #details #feature #k8 #neo #netbook #pavilion #performance #platform #portable #review #thin #yukon

Companies: #amd #hp #intel #ultra

Executing a plan

AMD has saved money by respinning the 690T and SB600 at 55nm, especially given that in six months it'll be superseeded by the far better 780G/SB700 as this is already using TSMC's 55nm process anyway. The embedded BGA design hinders upgradability but it does allow for easily attainable sub 1-inch thick notebooks, helping nail that ultra-thin segment.

While AMD is refusing to give details right now, we'd still wait for Congo: this will follow Yukon in "Q209" and feature a dual core CPU bolted to the 780G northbridge and (we assume) the fixed SB710 southbridge.

What confuses us is why AMD didn't just launch the platform with the 780G? It's been out a year, it's a large improvement over the 690T and it's already low power! The 690T is still better than the Intel 945G, but that doesn't make it that good compared to what else is on offer - the Radeon X1250 graphics core is three generations old now!

This is being offset by the tantalising option to include a discrete Radeon HD 3450 graphics chip - and we're not sure quite what to make of this: it's not fast enough to properly game on, but you wouldn't really want to game on an ultra-thin notebook anyway.

It does feature the latest UVD engine, which is an obvious advantage, but again we're not looking for Blu-ray, or even a DVD drive here either - huge capacity USB sticks and cloud computing are the storage mediums of 2009. The extra part increases the space used, power used and cost to the end user - when its job could be 90 percent done by 780G (Radeon HD 3200), why bother, we wonder.

AMD Athlon Neo: The New Ultra-thin Platform Great in theory, but it's all about the execution AMD Athlon Neo: The New Ultra-thin Platform Great in theory, but it's all about the execution
Click to enlarge

We asked AMD if it constrains the use of this platform to "ultra-thin" only, or allows free reign, and it replied:

"AMD has targeted a gap in the market between mini notebooks and ultraportables. AMD is referring to this new segment as Ultra-thin notebooks. Ultra-thin notebooks have a screen size that ranges from 11” to 13”. This segment will be comprised of a portion of people who have been purchasing mini notebooks but are dissatisfied with the limited PC experience, people purchasing ultraportable notebooks but don’t want to pay such a high price, and people purchasing mainstream notebooks, but want a more highly portable notebook. This segment will absorb what today has been referred to as "ultraportable" and "thin & light" 13-inch notebooks

and on the positive side:

"AMD has not placed restrictions upon the OEMs in terms of the notebook form factors that can be based on this platform."

Awesome! At least there will be variety, because Ultrathin implies a profile, not really what's inside and what the user experience will be (apart from thin & light, not necessarily full). If someone said to you "Ultrathin" you'd think, Macbook Air or Lenovo ThinkPad X300 - expensive, however, that said, MSI has just announced its own ultra-thin MSI X-Slim 320, Intel Menlow-based 13.4" netbook as well meaning AMD already has competition.

The fact that most ultra-thin/ultraportable notebooks have expensive associations does allow AMD the option to reinvent this perception but, to date, AMD's notebook marketing hasn't been that strong (or even weak for that matter) - "limp" would be a more appropriate description if we're frank. It has competed with Intel on fairly limited terms, so maybe Yukon can change this by carving out a new niche.

What about mini-ITX Athlon Neo boards? At a $70 platform cost this package is extremely cost efficient - only slightly more than the Atom, which we hope will bring the price of these AMD ultra-thin much closer to the $499 space than $1,499. In fact, we're pretty sure to gain any traction against the netbook juggernaut AMD's partners are going to have to push the $499 to $699 price bracket, and AMD itself has told us that it believes most Yukon notebooks will be in the $499 to $999 range. Without this, most people will settle for those bulky, cheap 15.4" notebooks, a netbook, or just go weak at the knees and opt for a white Macbook.

The one product already committed is from HP, the Pavilion dv2. A 12" wide 1,280 x 800 "720p HD Ready" display and a three and a half to four hour battery life. Again, that's as much information as we have, apart from a pretty picture we can see above. It will be available April which means this is not only a paper launch; we’ll have recycled it and re-read about it in a newspaper by then.

Initial Thoughts...

You may have assumed to gather my opinion of this from the cynicism I've erupted all over the pages of this article, but I do still want one. After all, I completely agree with AMD's targeting and positioning of this product - I simply debate the execution. AMD needs to get the breadth of industry support, because HP alone can’t cut it (even if it is the largest OEM).

AMD has to work hard to get partners to deliver cheap Yukon-based products to market faster than April, because that is far too late for this product. By that time, we are edging into Q2 and shouldn't we already be expecting the Congo dual core/780G part at that time? Why would we buy the HP? We just can't see a reason when there is a better featured version just around the corner.

AMD does basic low power very well indeed, so in theory this platform should be close to a walk in the park. What's more, it has all the hardware it needs to make a kick ass alternative to the Atom powered netbooks dominating the market at the moment, but Yukon based products need to be here sooner than April. If that doesn't happen, we believe AMD will be left behind with a great idea and no market because it has moved on by the time product arrives.
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