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AMD: Servers strong, mobile muted

AMD's server roadmap is solid, but mobile needs more attention.

Advanced Micro Devices' server roadmap is solid but its mainstream mobile lineup is languishing.

AMD's six-core Istanbul processor release was moved up to June
AMD's six-core "Istanbul" processor release was moved up to June AMD

First, the good news. These days AMD is walking the talk. This is a radical change from the AMD of 2007-2008, which always seemed to have a hopper full of Intel-vanquishing paper processors that, if they did materialize, disappointed.

Fast forward to AMD's Tuesday earnings announcement, when the company said it was actually moving up the introduction its most sophisticated processor, the six-core Istanbul, to June.

And AMD has proved its silicon mettle at large server customers such as IBM and Sun Microsystems--the latter's executive vice president John Fowler had nothing but praise for AMD processors in high-end Sun server systems.

In a "Global Webcast" on server technology Wednesday, Patrick Patla, a vice president in AMD's server and workstation business, revealed a strong roadmap, saying that 8- and 12-core "Magny-Cours" processors will appear in 2010. "We're currently working on new processors which we expect will deliver more than 35 times the performance of the original single-core AMD Opteron processor released in 2003," Patla said in a statement.

Intel, of course, will also bring out many-core processors, but AMD is keeping pace, and, according to people who should know, like Sun's Fowler, maybe more than keeping pace.

Now, the bad news. This post today on CNET's Crave blog says it all: "One of our biggest issues with HP's Pavilion dv3z was its AMD processor, keeping it from beating out the performance of comparable 13- and 14-inch laptops with Intel Core 2 Duo CPUs." This is, by no means, the first review that expresses this sentiment. In short, AMD mobile platforms consistently come up short in the high-profile, burgeoning laptop market. Will AMD close the gap in 2009?

Maybe one answer to that question is AMD's Neo chip that powers the low-cost, ultra-thin HP Pavilion dv2 laptop. More than a Netbook but less than a mainstream laptop, this kind of sleek mobile device could eventually eclipse the high-end Netbook segment.

AMD CEO Dirk Meyer said Tuesday that the single-core Neo processor will get a dual-core sibling dubbed "Congo" by summer. A dual-core processor in this low-cost, MacBook-Air-for-the-masses category is a compelling proposition. AMD needs to stay ahead of the game, especially when Intel brings out chips for this category in the May-June timeframe.