AMD releases Mobile Sempron ahead of 2005 mobile push

Advanced Micro Devices' (AMD) new Mobile Sempron chip gives the company a fresh chip for the holiday season, but that processor probably won't help it overcome the solid advantage that Intel holds in the notebook market.

The new Mobile Sempron 3000+ is designed for thin-and-light notebooks, usually categorised as systems weighing about 2.25kg.

Two European PC manufacturers, Gericom and Packard Bell NEC, planned to release new notebooks based on the chip before the end of the year, AMD said.

The Mobile Sempron family of chips is based on the Mobile Athlon 64 processing core. However, they contain less cache memory than the Mobile Athlon 64 chips and do not come with the 64-bit extensions found on those processors. The Mobile Sempron 3000+ runs at 1.8GHz, comes with 128KB of Level 2 cache and costs $US134 in quantities of 1000 units. It is available immediately.

Chipmakers often sell what they call "defeatured" versions of their flagship processors in order to hit certain prices. AMD does this with the Sempron family of chips, which competes against Intel's Celeron processors.

What AMD lacks, however, is a strong challenger to Intel's Pentium M processor. Introduced in 2003, Intel's Pentium M chip combined the performance features of its Pentium 4 processor with the power-friendly architecture of its Pentium III to create a powerful chip that consumes much less power than mobile versions of the Pentium 4. In fact, Intel is expected to eventually drop the Pentium 4 architecture in favour of the Pentium M design as its primary architecture for notebooks, desktops and low-end servers.

The smaller chip company has made great strides against Intel in the market for desktop and server processors, but has had less success reaching mainstream notebook users. The Mobile Athlon 64 processor is available in a version targeted at the thin-and-light market, but that chip consumes 35 watts of power under maximum operating conditions. Intel's Pentium M chip consumes only 21W under maximum operating conditions, making it a more attractive proposition for notebook manufacturers.

AMD's notebook processors are usually targeted at desktop replacement notebooks. These larger systems are designed more for performance than mobility and are typically used in homes for multimedia applications. EMachines and HP offer some Athlon 64 notebooks, but notebooks based on Intel's Pentium M and Mobile Intel Pentium 4 processors constitute about 70 per cent of all notebooks sold at retail, according to data from Current Analysis. And that advantage doesn't even include notebooks from Dell, all of which use Intel processors.

AMD executives acknowledged this gap in the company's product line-up at its recent analyst meeting. Two teams of AMD design engineers were currently working on mobile processors that would compete against the Pentium M, executive vice-president of AMD's computation products group, Dirk Meyer, said.

One team was developing an Athlon 64 processor that would consume a maximum of 25W of power, while another was focusing on an extremely low-power chip for ultra-portable notebooks and devices without a fan, he said.

The new Mobile Sempron processor consumes 25W under maximum operating conditions, an AMD spokesperson said. However, it was not considered a viable competitor to the Pentium M, which runs at faster clock speeds and contains more cache memory.

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Tom Krazit

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