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By | Joe Fay 5th June 2008 13:02

AMD mugs Intel in backstreets of Paris

Kick a rival when it's down? Mais oui?

AMD unveiled its marketing strategy for its Puma notebook silicon this week: rub Intel’s nose in it for as long as it can get away with it. Perhaps it’s no coincidence the launch was in Paris.

The chip makers’ execs were at pains to point out that “this is not a paper launch” and you can buy systems running these chips today. Well, maybe at the end of the week. The point is it says it has been shipping production parts for weeks, ensuring it doesn’t promise what it can’t deliver.

It’s no surprise AMD wanted to make sure vendors had silicon inhouse before it publicly announced Puma. After those little production bloopers last year that saw Barcelona transformed from ground breaking server platform to mythical lost city, the vendor really doesn’t want to screw up another product launch.

Then Intel went and gave AMD an unexpected gift, admitting that it was going to have to delay shipping of components of its Centrino 2 mobile platform until July, even as it emerged that supplies of its Atom chip for cut down portables were, let’s say, patchy. Given manufacturers’ lead times, this has encouraged AMD to pitch itself as the only game in town come “back to school”.

AMD's worldwide product marketing director Leslie Sobon did her best to appear demure when she said the company simply thinks “it’s important to point out when you launch a product you should have a product.”

And Sobon and other AMD execs went to Hogwartsian lengths to avoid mentioning Intel by name, referring to the “competition”. But when we asked exactly what Puma would be packing over “you know who” sorry, “the competition”, she had a slide on hand with plenty of ticks in the Puma column and assorted crosses in the (current) Centrino and (future) Centrino 2 piles.

Meeow

Graphics is the key thing here. Sobon argued that notebook users had all the productivity power they needed now. Who needs to open a spreadsheet any faster? If notebooks continue to takeover from desktops, AMD reckons, the differentiator now would be being able to watch HD while ripping CDs, or updating iTunes while playing a high-def game. And doing all this without soaking the battery. Nice work if you can get it. So it’s a consumer play? No, she said, after all, how many “roadwarriors” do you actually see doing work on the plane these days?

So, the Puma platform features Turion X2 Ultra Dual Cores CPUs, with integrated ATI Radeon HD 3200 Graphics. It can also be used with discrete graphics setups from its ATI Radeon 3000 series. The platform’s power management will power down individual components, including the discrete graphics. So, for example, if a system has discrete graphics, but is running on battery power it will switch to the integrated graphics to save power. Plug the system in, and the discrete graphics will kick in. Crucially, the discrete and integrated graphics can run together, offloading even more work from the CPU, and delivering high-end gaming graphics. At least that’s AMD says.

AMD’s notebook silicon integration effort is dubbed Swift. Puma is phase one. The next iteration will see the CPU and GPU integrated on the same die, under the codename Shrike. Not surprisingly, this will tie in AMD’s shift to a 45nm process, which will begin on desktops and or servers this year, and notebooks next year – or after the back to school season if you like.

Of course, this level of integration and power management could lend itself to something beyond the richly featured mainstream form factor notebooks the vendor is targeting. Surely this amount of shrinkage is just what the UPC market is begging for. Intel thinks so, and is pitching its Atom line at this sector.

Once again Sobon goes into Harry Potter mode. She raises the very fair point that the industry has been talking about ultramobile PCs for years, but has actually sold very few. But she acknowledges that someone is making a concerted effort to actually turn this sector into a mass market. Who might that be? She ain’t really saying, but she adds that “if there is a market to be made, someone else will make it.” If they do successfully, “we’ll be there.”

With Shrike? Not necessarily, she says, pointing out that AMD has an existing embedded processing business which could lend itself to this sector. She adds that attempting to pack everything into a small form factor PC might not be the exact model anyway. She points to Fujitsu Siemens Computers which will be offering a Puma-based box with integrated graphics with an separate box for the full discrete graphics monty. “That might be the model.”

Of course this is all in the future. And Intel may have gotten its act together by then. After all, it’s pulled back after being bested by AMD in the past.

So, this year’s back to school may be a good chance for AMD to enjoy a season in the sun. But if it’s smart as it thinks it is, it better be making hay instead of watching the grass grow. ®

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