AMD challenges Intel with dual-core Neo chip

AMD's dual-core Neo chip will run at 1.6GHz and could be faster than Intel's single-core CULV chips

Advanced Micro Devices on Monday said it had started shipping the dual-core Athlon Neo processor for thin and light laptops, upping the ante in its battle with rival Intel, which offers processors for similar laptops.

The new Neo chip will be an upgrade over the single-core Neo processor launched by AMD in January. Laptops with the dual-core processor will offer faster processing and graphics performance, said David Schwarzbach, senior manager for platform marketing at AMD.

Neo chips are designed for thin and light laptops that can deliver full functionality at affordable prices, AMD says. AMD fits Neo chips into a category of consumer PCs it calls "ultrathin" laptops, which falls between netbooks and expensive ultraportable laptops like Apple's MacBook Air. AMD contends that netbooks, though cheap, provide limited functionality, while ultraportables are too expensive, with prices above US$1,500.

Some ultrathin laptops in the market today come with screen sizes between 12.1 inches and 14 inches, and weigh between 3 pounds (1.36 kilograms) and 4 pounds. AMD said dual-core Neo will be in laptops priced between $750 and $999. The chip operates at a clock speed of around 1.6GHz and draws up to 18 watts of power. Pricing for the chip wasn't immediately available.

Laptops with the new Neo chips are being shown at the Computex trade show in Taiwan. Hewlett-Packard -- which already ships the Pavilion DV2 laptop with a single-core Neo -- will refresh the laptop with the new chip, Schwarzbach said. HP's laptop will become available on Monday, while other Neo-based laptops will become available in September.

Ultrathin laptops are as portable as netbooks and provide adequate performance to run most applications, like high-definition multimedia, casual gaming and productivity applications, said Nathan Brookwood, principal analyst at Insight 64. If ultrathin laptops become hot, the losers could be PC makers like Sony, Toshiba and Apple, who have been overcharging consumers for expensive ultraportables, Brookwood said.

AMD's Neo could potentially face competition from Intel's low-power processors for ultrathin laptops -- also called CULV (consumer ultra-low voltage) processors -- that may be introduced at Computex. Laptops with Intel's CULV chips -- like Lenovo's IdeaPad U350 and MSI's X-Slim laptops -- have already been announced.

The updated Neo chip will be part of AMD's upcoming Congo platform for ultrathin laptops. The platform will include integrated graphics based on the Radeon 3200 graphics core, a major upgrade from the earlier Radeon 1200 integrated graphics. That should enable faster decoding of high-definition content and provide a better multimedia experience, Schwarzbach said.

Most netbooks offer limited graphics capabilities, which could draw users to ultrathin laptops, Insight 64's Brookwood said. On a platform level, AMD holds an advantage over Intel on graphics capabilities, Brookwood said.

"When it comes to integrated graphics, it's hardly a contest between Intel and AMD. AMD wins hands down," Brookwood said.

By contrast, Intel's chips offer better performance-per-watt than Neo chips, Brookwood said. Intel's chips are manufactured using the 45-nanometer process, which brings more energy efficiency to laptops than the older 65-nm process used by AMD for Neo chips. But the dual-core Neo could help laptop users do more tasks simultaneously than Intel's single-core CULV chips.

But processor speed won't be a major factor in driving adoption of ultrathin laptops, Brookwood said. The thin and light size will appeal more to consumers, and the battle could be around pricing and style.

"Nobody will buy these products to edit movies or to do a lot of Photoshop-like work," Brookwood said.

AMD on Monday also announced dual-core desktop chips that are manufactured using the 45-nm process. The Phenom II X2 550 runs at a clock speed of 3.1GHz and includes 7MB of cache. It is priced at $102. The dual-core Athlon II X2 250 processor operates at a speed of 3.0GHz and includes 2MB of L2 cache. It is priced at $87. Both processors will come as part of a chip package that supports faster DDR3 memory.

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