AMD execs tout firm's tablet plans

Analysts say 'Hondo' tablet chips provide strong opportunity for an AMD rebound

With new CEO Rory Read at the helm for about six months, Advanced Micro Devices has turned its attention to the lucrative and burgeoning tablet market.

The question is whether it's too late for AMD, which hasn't been at the top of its game recently, to successfully enter a new market, analysts said.

"I don't think [AMD is too late]," said Charles King, an analyst at Pund-IT. "The company's focus on a combination of quality graphics performance, energy efficiency and competitive cost should be right down the alley of many tablet makers.

"Plus, he added, "rumors of Apple's world domination aside, the tablet market is anything but mature. I expect we'll see any number of challengers rising up and even winning in some markets."

Lisa Su, general manager of AMD's Global Business Units, told analysts and reporters last week that the company is going after the tablet market "in a big way."

AMD is betting that a new 40-nanometer chip, code-named Hondo, will power Windows 8-based tablets once it starts shipping later this year.

AMD and Intel both have been slow to make headway in the mobile market, whether tablets or smartphones. And that's been a problem for both chip giants.

As PC sales decline with the growing popularity of smartphones and tablets, tech industry watchers have been waiting for both companies to make a strong move to provide chips for mobile devices.

Intel last month inked deals with Motorola and Lenovo to provide next-generation Atom chips for those companies smartphones.

And then last week, AMD made its move to grab a piece of the tablet pie.

While Apple's iPad holds a huge chunk of the market, industry analysts say there's still plenty of room for rival devices and chips to power them.

"Tablets are still an emerging market and could be consumed by tablet-notebook hybrids like the Lenovo and Asus offerings once Windows 8 ships," said Rob Enderle, an analyst with the Enderle Group. "[AMD] will need a compelling advantage if they are going to be a major player."

Dan Olds, an analyst with The Gabriel Consulting Group, said it's smart for AMD to build a tablet chip from the ground up instead of reconfiguring an existing chip.

"This is an area where AMD's purchase of ATI and the resulting Fusion, which combines CPU and GPU in a single package, might really pay off," Olds said. "One of the biggest performance inhibitors, and power drains too, is graphic processing. AMD, with its Fusion architecture, has one-upped Intel on the integrated graphics front and this could give them a solid advantage when it comes to tablets."

Read told attendees at the financial analyst conference in Santa Clara that the company doesn't plan an immediate move into the smartphone market.

"I think it's understandable, especially for a company in a rebuilding phase," said King.

"Despite its size and growth potential, the smartphone market has been a brutal space for vendors offering alternatives to established CPUs. The tablet market, on the other hand, is still relatively wide open. Competing in smartphone CPUs is somewhat akin to running head first into a brick wall, while tablets are more like a picket fence," King added.

Some analysts wondered whether the company should have made a bigger splash at its meeting with analysts last week, considering it was seen as Read's coming out event.

Industry observers had been eagerly waiting to see if Read and his team would surprise them with a re-energized product roadmap.

"AMD's new management team presented with confidence and energy," said Patrick Moorhead, an analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy. "They did a good job communicating their priorities for the next few years.

"But I believe that many in AMD's ecosystem wanted to see more dramatic announcements, like ... plans to take large chunks of server market share. AMD will need to start taking market share to create some real excitement around the company," he added.

Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin, or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed . Her e-mail address is

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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