AMD finally makes tablet chip, the dual-core Hondo

Tablets with AMD Z-60 tablet chip, code-named Hondo, will be available by the end of the year

Advanced Micro Devices renewed its attempt to make an impact in the tablet market, this time with its new dual-core Z-60 chip which the company introduced on Tuesday.

Beyond tablets, the new dual-core chip, code-named Hondo, could be used in hybrid PC-tablet devices. Many new devices such as HP's Envy X2 have screens that can pop out from a keyboard dock to become tablets.

AMD's Z-60 chip is timed for the launch of Microsoft's Windows 8, which will become available in computers starting on Oct. 26. AMD-based tablets will soon follow, the company said.

A tablet with a Z-60 chip could be expected this month, said Gary Silcott, an AMD spokesman. He didn't name the company that would release the product or an expected price, saying he couldn't speak for the device makers.

Initial Windows 8 tablets and hybrids such as the Envy X2 and Lenovo's ThinkPad Tablet 2 will use Intel's x86 chips and ship at the Windows 8 launch. The ThinkPad Tablet 2 will start at $629, but AMD has said it will compete with Intel-based ultrabooks and tablets on prices.

AMD will also compete with ARM, whose processors will appear in tablets with Microsoft's Windows RT OS. Dell, Asus, Samsung are scheduled to launch tablets with RT, and ARM processors are already used in most tablets with Android and iOS operating systems. Qualcomm, Nvidia and Texas Instruments are making ARM-based chips for Windows RT tablets.

Any win is important to AMD right now, even if they are just PCs and not tablets, said Jim McGregor, principal analyst at Tirias Research.

"They are positioning Hondo as a solution between ARM and Atom and Core for mid-priced productivity tablets, which is a difficult position. Even if the segment will exist, it is not clear what price band it would occupy," McGregor said.

The Hondo chip will run at a clock speed of 1GHz and draw 4.5 watts of power, according to product slides from AMD. The chip will have 80 integrated Radeon graphics processor cores, which will give tablets high-definition video and gaming capabilities. The Radeon graphics core will support DirectX 11 and have the capability to support fill high-definition 1080p displays. Many tablets today have 1366-by-768 or 1280-by-800-pixel resolution displays.

A Windows 8 tablet with the Z-60 will provide 10 hours of battery life on a single battery charge, eight hours of web continuous browsing, and six hours of 720p video, according to AMD's benchmarks. A tablet will boot up Windows 8 in 25 seconds and resume from sleep in just two seconds. The chip is based on the CPU core code-named Bobcat, which is also used in AMD's low-power C-series and E-series netbook chips.

Intel has made an Atom chip code-named Clover Trail for tablets, which will also offer 10 hours of battery life. AMD said that existing applications will work with its chips. Existing Windows applications will not work with ARM-based tablets with Windows RT, like with Intel's Clover Trail chip.

Hondo's success is important to AMD, which is heavily reliant on the slumping PC market. The Z-60 chip will succeed the earlier dual-core Z-01, which was released in June last year and drew around 6 watts of power. However, the chip was considered a failure as it appeared in only a handful of tablets such as MSI's WindPad.

The lack of a tablet market strategy was one of the reasons that led to the former AMD CEO Dirk Meyer's resignation in early 2011. AMD appointed former Lenovo exec Rory Read as the new CEO in August last year, and he has made the tablet market one of his top priorities. Earlier this year, the company ripped up its old chip roadmap, and introduced a new strategy for tablet, server and PC chips. Hondo is based on the company's old chip roadmap, but the company plans next year to release a new tablet chip code-named Tamesh, which will be based on the faster and more power-efficient Jaguar CPU core.

Hondo is still not on the same playing field as tablets with Intel's Clover Trail or ARM processors, and AMD understands this, McGregor said.

"On the positive side, AMD is still delivering new products. On the negative side, the size of the market is unclear for this product," McGregor said.

Agam Shah covers PCs, tablets, servers, chips and semiconductors for IDG News Service. Follow Agam on Twitter at @agamsh. Agam's e-mail address is agam_shah@idg.com

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