AMD broadens the battle, goes after Intel with Puma

Chip maker releases first processor designed specifically for laptops

Advanced Micro Devices Inc. today ramped up its competition with rival Intel Corp. by unveiling its first processor system designed specifically for laptops.

AMD announced the new processor -- code-named Puma -- at the Computex trade show in Taiwan. The offering includes the newly designed Turion X2 Ultra Dual-Core Mobile Processor and will be combined with the ATI Radeon HD 3000 Series graphics chips.

AMD has been a wannabe in the laptop arena by basically modifying a desktop processor for mobile needs. Puma marks the first time the company is taking direct aim at the laptop market with a targeted processor.

And it's the kind of pressure that the chip maker needs to be putting on Intel, according to Rob Enderle, an analyst at Enderle Group.

"It's been a long time coming," said Enderle. "It's been a place where they had really struggled against Intel. It's pretty costly to rearchitect a platform for mobile users. Intel knows that with the Pentium M and Centrino, and they had a lot more resources. AMD always figured they'd compete on the desktop and large form-factor laptops where they could use modified desktop chips."

The Puma processor is much more competitive with Intel's mobile offerings, he added. "We'll see how it plays out, but this shows AMD competing across all the major lines, and that's what AMD had to do," said Enderle.

AMD's financially taxing $5.4 billion purchase of ATI Technologies Inc. in 2006 may now be paying off with these new chip sets, according to Dan Olds, founder of the Gabriel Consulting Group Inc.

"Laptop sales have steadily grown over the years, eclipsing desktop sales," he said. "They are big sellers for both business and consumers. Laptops have specialized needs. They have to balance cool features, like good performance and powerful graphics, with battery life and heat problems. This requires processors that are different from standard desktop and server chips. They need to optimize for low-power, low-heat, yet still be fast enough to handle a wide range of needs."

But being so late to the dance has put AMD far behind Intel in this battle. However, Intel stumbled a bit late in May, announcing that a problem with its integrated graphics chip set forced the company to postpone the launch of its new Centrino 2 laptop system. The delay could be the foot in the door that AMD has been looking for.

With the big back-to-school buying season quickly coming up, AMD will have the advantage of touting its new chips while Intel labors to get its own out the door.

"Yes, this might give them a window, assuming that what they bring to the market is compelling and timely," said Olds. "Same old problem for AMD: They need to get stuff to the market faster, and it has to be better than the alternatives."

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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