2010 CPU forecast: What's coming for desktop and mobile PCs

From mighty six-core desktop chips to minuscule smartbook processors, here's a look at what's in the CPU cards this year.

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Unlike Intel, AMD won't have any ultra-low-power offerings this year. "AMD needs to enter this low-power market, but it has been too preoccupied," says Tom Halfhill, senior analyst at In-Stat's "Microprocessor Report" newsletter. "With any luck, AMD will be ready for a rebound in 2010."

Via Technologies -- which, according to Halfhill, pioneered the concept of simplified, low-power x86 processors -- does have a promising alternative to Intel's Atom. The company began mass-producing its Nano 3000 series of CPUs in December 2009. The Nano 3300 runs at 1.2 GHz with an 800-MHz FSB, while the Nano 3200 runs at 1.4 GHz, also with an 800-MHz FSB. Both chips are manufactured using a 65nm process, but they offer a number of features that Intel's Atom-series processors do not, including full support for Blu-ray video.

In addition, the processors in the Nano 3000 series support either 800-MHz dual-channel DDR2 memory or 1,066-MHz dual-channel DDR3 memory, while the Atom is limited to 800-MHz single-channel DDR2. And where the Nano 3000 series supports a full range of video interfaces (including LVDS, DisplayPort and HDMI), the Atom D410 and D510 are limited to LVDS and VGA.

For all that, Halfhill predicts, "Via will be lucky to nibble a few crumbs of market share. It's too bad, because Via makes some good x86 processors."

Mobile processors

Intel should notch the most mobile design wins this year, thanks to its ultra-low-power Atom processor and its Arrandale series processors, the latter of which integrate both a dual-core CPU and GPU in the same package.

AMD's graphics division, on the other hand, should earn a lot of business in the desktop-replacement notebook market, because it's currently the only company that has a mobile graphics processor that's capable of supporting Microsoft's DirectX 11.

In the handheld and smartbook market, ARM Holdings' Cortex-A8/A9 processors should gain significant traction.

Full-size laptop CPUs

AMD will continue to trail Intel on the mobile CPU front in 2010; in fact, the company has just two new mobile processors on its public road map for this year. AMD's first quadcore mobile CPU, code-named Champlain, will have 2MB of cache (512MB for each core) and support for DDR3 memory. AMD also plans to offer Champlain in dual-core trim.

According to AMD's road map, Champlain will be the foundation for its Danube platform for mainstream desktop replacement and thin-and-light notebooks. Danube will feature DirectX 10.1 integrated graphics with an option for a DirectX 11 discrete graphics processor.

AMD's second new mobile offering, code-named Geneva, will be a dual-core processor with 2MB of cache and DDR3 memory support. Geneva will form the basis of AMD's Nile platform for ultrathin notebooks and will feature DirectX 10.1 integrated graphics, with optional support for a DirectX 11 discrete GPU. AMD hasn't released any additional details about Champlain and Geneva since briefing analysts on the new chips in November.

AMD's mobile CPU road map

AMD's mobile CPU road map. Click to view larger image.

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