AMD answers Intel with 'Congo,' HP laptop

Advanced Micro Devices will bring out its dual-core Neo chip, which will debut on an updated laptop from Hewlett-Packard.

Brooke Crothers
Brooke Crothers Former CNET contributor
Brooke Crothers writes about mobile computer systems, including laptops, tablets, smartphones: how they define the computing experience and the hardware that makes them tick. He has served as an editor at large at CNET News and a contributing reporter to The New York Times' Bits and Technology sections. His interest in things small began when living in Tokyo in a very small apartment for a very long time.
2 min read

Updated at 5:15 p.m. PDT: correcting for AMD dual-core Neo in HP dv2 laptop and adding Acer Aspire Timeline AS3810T discussion.

Advanced Micro Devices will debut its dual-core low-power Athlon chip technology on an updated laptop from Hewlett-Packard next week. This will be followed by "Congo" low-power silicon later this year.

HP will update its Pavilion dv2 laptop with a dual-core version of AMD's low-power Athlon processor
HP will update its Pavilion dv2 laptop with a dual-core version of AMD's low-power Athlon processor Hewlett-Packard

AMD is aiming its Neo technology at the ultra-thin laptop market. This is the same market that Intel has addressed for a long time with its ULV (ultra-low-voltage) chips. However, until very recently, laptops using Intel's ULV chips were expensive "executive jewelry," as Intel CEO Paul Otellini has described the segment. (Think: $2,000-and-up Sony Vaio TT or Toshiba Portege R600 laptops.)

That was then. Intel now targets its ULV silicon at inexpensive ultra-thin laptops. It's probably safe to say that AMD beat Intel to the punch (and got Intel's attention) when HP announced the 0.9-inch-thick, $700 dv2 laptop at CES in January, sporting the first Neo chip.

And the dv2 was more than a Netbook: it had a 12-inch screen, ran Windows Vista, packed ATI graphics, and came replete with a 320GB hard disk drive and 4GB of memory.

The updated HP Pavilion dv2 is expected to debut on June 10 with the dual-core Athlon Neo.

The dual-core Neo chip used in the updated HP dv2 (which is exclusive to HP) will be followed by AMD's Congo technology, due in the third quarter, which integrates AMD's HD3200 graphics, an improvement over the current "Yukon" platform. The all-important power envelope--that, after all, is what sets the technology apart from mainstream mobile silicon--of the whole package including the graphics is expected to be about the same as the first-generation Neo, according to AMD.

Other vendors will follow with low-power dual-core Congo chips later this year, according to AMD. The new silicon will be used in 24 designs across 11 different PC makers--though AMD says this list is expected to grow.

One of the challenges that AMD faces is benchmarks. This CNET review of the first HP dv2 laptop with the initial Neo chip said that though the "1.6 GHz Neo CPU MV-40 has enough processing power to run Windows Vista smoothly, something that has tripped up Intel-Atom-powered systems" when "running multiple apps simultaneously, none of these low-power, single-core CPUs were particularly impressive, and the Neo and Atom were essentially tied in our multitasking test. By way of comparison, a standard Intel Core 2 Duo ULV (ultra-low voltage) processor, as found in more expensive 12-inch laptops, easily beats them all."

Another challenge is power efficiency. Though a dual-core Neo chip should close some of the performance gap with Intel dual-core ULV chips, it remains to be seen what kind of battery life Neo delivers with two cores. AMD says the extra core only adds three watts over the current single-core 15-watt power envelope. The newest Intel-based ultra-thin laptops boast significantly better battery life than older Intel ULV laptops, with some models, such as the Acer Aspire Timeline AS3810T, delivering up to eight hours on one charge.