AMD wants its name in pixels

Chipmaker is eyeing more inroads into consumer electronics for its Geode brand of chips.

Nobody's going to run spreadsheets on their toaster, but AMD still thinks there's a lot to be gained by outfitting consumer gadgets with the same basic design underlying PC chips.

No. 2 chipmaker Advanced Micro Devices is rolling forward with plans to extend its output of x86--the architecture underneath most PC processors, including AMD's Athlons--with an extended Geode line of low-power, low-cost processors, Fred Weber, AMD's chief technology officer, told CNET

Over the next few years, the company plans to introduce a range of new chips designed for jobs such as powering personal media players and set-top boxes.

Other companies, including Intel and Via Technologies, have been similarly expanding the scope of their x86 chips.


What's new:
AMD has become the latest chipmaker to announce its intention to broaden the scope of x86 processors into the consumer electronics realm.

Bottom line:
Although AMD is aiming to offer lower-price x86 chips, cost may remain an issue, even if it succeeds. That's because RISC and MIPS chips have traditionally sold for less than x86 processors.

More stories on the chip market

AMD, which first disclosed its consumer electronics ambition last November, plans to move into the consumer market by slowly adding to the Geode line, for home multimedia gear, each year.

It will start with a new iteration of its current all-purpose Geode chip, which will offer more performance but use less power. The company will expand the Geode line in the following years by delivering chips tuned for specific jobs during 2006 and 2007, Weber said.

The Geode is currently found primarily in so-called thin clients from companies such as Wyse Technology.

AMD believes that electronics manufacturers will need to use beefier operating systems as they add more functions to their gear. Given the huge amount of software available for the x86 processors that have formed the foundation of PCs for years--not to mention operating systems such as Windows and Linux--AMD believes that manufacturers will switch from chips based on RISC or MIPS architectures to x86.

"The approach we're going to take for the consumer electronics (market), initially--and I think more over time, because we think it's very much the right direction--is to start offering x86-based solutions for more and more consumer applications," Weber said. "I don't mean jamming a PC processor into a blender. What I mean is designing an appropriate x86 processor for appropriate devices, whether those be portable media devices...home media servers or...the set-top box."

AMD's aim to embrace consumer electronics has the potential to boost the company's revenue and market share as the company carves out new niches using basic chip technology that it has been developing for years. It also has a number of potentially lucrative relationships, as many of the electronics manufacturers that buy AMD's flash memory chips might also consider its Geode.

AMD will aim for the right mix of performance, power consumption and price with the new Geodes, arguing that the wide availability of x86 software seals the deal. Future Geodes could also be fitted with new technology for things such as AMD's virtualization technology, which allows a computer to run multiple jobs, Weber said.

However, the strategy is still risky, analysts say. National Semiconductor sought to do essentially the same thing before it fell on hard times and sold the Geode line to AMD.

Meanwhile, rival Intel has also quietly established a plan to sell its x86 chips into CE devices. Companies such as ARM, which designs and licenses RISC processor cores, and IBM, whose PowerPC chips are also RISC-based, are pulling for their own chip designs.

"I think it will make some progress, but I think (AMD is) also overestimating the value of the x86 instruction set in deeply embedded

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