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AMD will show tilt toward ultraportables Thursday

Up to now, it has effectively conceded this market to Intel, which virtually owns the Netbook market with its Atom processor.

Advanced Micro Devices on Thursday plans to discuss its strategy for ultraportables, a market where the chipmaker is a self-professed laggard.

Whether AMD targets Netbooks specifically or a different design isn't clear. But the company must contend with the fact that Netbooks have become a market sensation during the last year. The Asus Eee PC demonstrated quickly that there was latent demand for a small, low-cost, lightweight laptop-style computer.

Every major PC maker--with the exception of Sony--followed suit, including Dell, Hewlett-Packard, Toshiba, and Acer. And Microsoft has made it clear that a version of Windows 7 will be stripped down specifically for Netbooks.

Not a netbook, but cheap as a netbook at $299: the eMachines Model: eMD620-5777 uses an AMD Athlon 2650e processor.
Not a Netbook, but cheap as a Netbook at $299: the eMachines eMD620-5777 uses an AMD Athlon 2650e processor. Best Buy

But AMD is not a player. It has effectively conceded this market to Intel, which virtually owns the Netbook market with its Atom processor.

That may change Thursday at AMD's 2008 financial analyst day. "Tomorrow we will discuss our plans to move into the ultraportable market and deliver new platforms aimed at the key areas driving the bulk of the mobile market expansion," an AMD spokesperson said Wednesday.

Ironically, AMD's Geode--one of its less-conspicuous chips in a large stable of mobile processors--was chosen for the One Laptop per Child XO laptop, which predates the Netbook market and predates Intel's Atom.

AMD's chief executive has addressed this also. "Clearly the so-called Netbook is a new form factor, a new market opportunity and one that we're not participating in right now, today," CEO Dirk Meyer said during the company's third-quarter earnings conference call last month.

"We do have strategies together with our OEMs for pushing our solutions both down into smaller form factors and lowered notebook price points, and we'll detail that next month at the analyst conference," Meyer added at that time.

AMD executives have hinted at Netbook designs via blogs, alluding to the requisite graphics capability (where AMD's ATI graphics unit would contribute), CPU performance, battery life, and even form factors: "Eight to nine hours battery life (which we know really means five to six browsing hours)...weight is a huge factor and at 1.5 to 2 lbs, this seems plenty light enough. Also, the closed height cannot exceed three-quarters of an inch."

But AMD needs to deliver the low-power processors to back up these ideas. AMD does not offer a line of ultra-low voltage dual-core mobile processors like Intel (used in the MacBook Air and Toshiba Portege, for example). One of the few low-power mobile chips its offers is the Sempron 2100+ chip that draws less than 10 watts.