RealTime IT News

AMD Mobilizes Turion to Fight Centrino

AMD is upping the mobile ante in its chip battle against Intel's Centrino processors.

The No. 2 chipmaker began shipping its single-core, low-power, 64-bit processor family named Turion today in coordination with the start of the CeBIT show in New York this week.

AMD said the chips should start appearing in thin-and-light notebooks and Tablet PCs later this month. OEMs like Acer and Fujitsu Siemens are first on the block to install Turion in their new mobile PCs. And the company's usual support group of ASUS, Averatec, BenQ, MSI and Packard Bell have also pledged systems based on the mobile chip.

Based on AMD's "Lancaster" designs, the low-voltage, 754-pin-compatible processor is made using 90-nanometer production and silicon on insulator (SOI) technology. In addition to its enhanced virus protection, courtesy of Microsoft Windows XP Service Pack 2, AMD is outfitting its Turion family with the option for either 1M or 512K on-die cache memory.

AMD is shipping seven different SKUs for the Turion debut. In 1,000-unit quantities, OEMs are looking at prices that fall somewhere between $189 and $354, which is much less than the $270 to $705 an OEM would spend on Intel's latest generation of Centrino mobile technology, code-named Sonoma. Turion also supports AMD's HyperThreading interconnect technology, which Intel doesn't.

The Turion family joins AMD's other 64-bit mobile processors, including Athlon64 chips for its desktop replacement laptops and the Athlon64 mobile processors for 15- to 14-inch full-sized laptops.

"Turion 64 is an improved mobile Athlon64, but it doesn't offer the same bundle of chip set and wireless as Centrino," Kevin Krewell, principal analyst for In-Stat and editor-in-chief of "Microprocessor Report" told internetnews.com. "It's a good part, but not a Centrino-killer. AMD's part is a step in the right direction for the company, but is not a part designed from the ground up for mobile as was Centrino."

However, AMD considers its "no vendor lock-in" approach more beneficial than Intel's single silicon strategy. AMD's Turion sanctions graphics partners like ATI, NVidia, SIS, VIA and ULI to help give the notebooks a clean face. Broadcom, Marvell and RealTEK are all expected to present new software that monitors LAN support. And as for that all-important wireless connection, AMD said it is serving up its wireless capabilities courtesy of Broadcom, which is compatible with HP and Atheros.

"The Turion is a legitimate competitor to the Centrino and should get the attention of OEM's who want to provide more options in power and value to their customers," said Tim Bajarin, principal analyst with IT research firm CreativeStrategies. "I don't consider its 64 bit capabilities key to it success since there is very little software available that will take advantage of this feature. But the no-chipset lock in will also help them get more OEM attention for this chip since it adds another element of flexibility for mobile designs. But I believe that its lower pricing than equivalent Centrino's is what will get them broader OEM interest once the Turion ships."

One challenge AMD has acknowledged is its relationship with top-tier OEMs like HP, which has not chimed in on how it might use the Turion family.

A research study by AMD found that of all who replied, 77 thought the brand of the PC mattered more in their purchases than the brand of the chip inside running the system. An additional 89 percent said they would consider buying a notebook even without Intel inside.

Outside of HP, AMD may have a harder sell. Dell executives have not expressed an interest in the No. 1 PC retailer abandoning its Intel-only policy. IBM also seems an unlikely candidate for adopting the Turion considering it is in the final phases of unloading its own PC division onto Lenovo.

However, Bahr Mahony, a division marketing manager with AMD's mobile processor group, told internetnews.com one bright spot on AMD's expansion plans may be Sun Microsystems , which has expressed an interest in producing its own brand of Solaris notebooks running on AMD processors. Sun is AMD's top Opteron OEM, according to analyst reports out of Gartner.

Executives at Sun were not immediately available to respond to Mahony's claims that it may want to produce laptops for the first time in its company history.

Turion's New Name Game

Along with the launch of a new mobile processor, AMD is revising its product identification policy.

Previous classifications focused on performance-based version SKUs, such as its 3200+ and 3400+ series. This time around, AMD is identifying models based on what they do, how they do it, and how much power it takes. Intel has already shifted its naming conventions as the need to focus on speed alone no longer matters.

The initial lineup of AMD's seven SKUs include the ML-37, ML-34, ML-32, ML-30, MT-34, MT-32, and MT-30 Turion processors.

In the case of its high-end ML-37, the "M" means that it is a mobile processor. The "L" designates how well the chip does while unplugged. Out of the range between A-to-Z, a higher letter indicates lower power consumption, enabling longer system battery life.

The numbers designate relative processor performance. The higher the number, the better its performance.

"We started out in the middle with our first batch of identifying Turion processors, because it allows AMD the range to move to lower power processors or use the methodology for higher power processors," Mahony said.

Mahony said the naming conventions may get a little dicey when AMD launches its first dual-core Turion later this year. The company is also taking a wait-and-see approach to beefing up AMD Sempron, its other single-core processor.