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Serious challenger to Intel Atom chip emerges

Advanced Micro Devices will challenge Intel on the small laptop front with processors that vie with the Atom chip in Netbook-class designs. And AMD may trump Intel with extra integrated circuitry to boost graphics performance.

Advanced Micro Devices appears ready to offer the stiffest challenge to Intel's Netbook processor yet. AMD's trump card: extra circuitry integrated into the main processor that brings a higher level of graphics horsepower to small, thin laptops.

New AMD chips should appear in slim designs like the MSI X-340 early next year.
New AMD chips should appear in slim designs like the MSI X-340 early next year. MSI

Today, at the company's finanical analyst day, AMD announced an umbrella technology dubbed "Brazos" that comprises two new lines of processors for Netbooks ("Ontario") and small laptops ("Zacate").

Aimed at designs that typically range from 10-inch to 13-inch diagonal screen sizes, Ontario and Zacate graft AMD Radeon 6000 series graphics technology onto the main processor, or CPU. And that's exactly what may give AMD the edge in performance over Intel's Atom.

"I would have to give the graphics edge to AMD particularly in Ontario," said Ben Bajarin, an analyst at Creative Strategies. "[Though] Atom will still have the edge in lower power and performance per watt and probably get into smaller form factors."

A write-up at Notebook Review was upbeat about price-performance: "If streaming online videos and playing games are important to you then you'll have a hard time finding Intel-based notebooks and netbooks with the same level of performance for less than $500."

AMD is also touting the fact that its graphics silicon supports Microsoft's DirectX 11 technology for boosting gaming and multimedia performance. Intel's integrated graphics currently does not support DirectX 11.

New laptops using the chips are expected early next year and some Windows 7-based tablets may use the Ontario chip. AMD began shipping the processors this week.

Ontario and Zacate silicon--what AMD calls accelerated processing units--are almost identical but run at different speeds. They will come in single and dual-core versions and have power envelopes of 9 watts and 18 watts, respectively. Here's a brief overview:

  • AMD C-50 with AMD Radeon HD 6250 graphics: dual-core CPU at 1.0GHz: 9W (Ontario)
  • AMD C-30 with AMD Radeon HD 6250 Graphics: single-core CPU at 1.2GHz: 9W (Ontario)
  • AMD E-350 with AMD Radeon HD 6310 graphics: dual-core CPU at 1.6GHz: 18W (Zacate)
  • AMD E-240 with AMD Radeon HD 6310 graphics: single-core CPU at 1.5GHz: 18W (Zacate)