Sunday, January 2, 2011

AMD Fusion - Breathing new life into netbooks

Netbooks with good graphics performance and HDMI output have been around for more than a year in models like the NVIDIA Ion powered HP Mini 311 and Asus Eee PC 1201N, and the NVIDIA Ion 2 powered Asus 1215N. Locally, these notebooks have commanded a price of almost Php30K. At the same time, while having good graphics, these Ion powered netbooks run on single or dual core Atom processors which have fairly sluggish performance which has limited their popularity.

Does the AMD Fusion bring anything new to the picture? These new Fusion Netbooks will be running on 1GHz AMD C-50 (Ontario) and 1.6GHz AMD E-350 (Zacate) dual core processors have relatively powerful integrated graphics card and a single channel DDR3-1066 memory controller. The AMD C-50 has integrated Radeon HD 6250 graphics card and is expected to be about as fast as the Nvidia ION graphics solution. AMD E-350 comes with an integrated Radeon HD 6310 graphics card.

While it is best to wait for the benchmarks on production models, we do not expect the new AMD solutions to be all that much faster than the NVIDIA Ion solutions. What we do expect is a substantially lower price point. We expect the hardware to cost less than the Ion-Atom solution. Even if  NVIDIA and Intel lower the price of their products, there is another cost related factor. 

In order to provide long battery life, the NVIDIA Ion chipset switches between Ion graphics to Intel's more frugal Intel GMA 3150 graphics card when not running 3D applications or playing HD content. In order to activate this automatic switching technology, you need to run Windows 7 Home Premium or better. Requiring a higher version of Windows adds to the cost.  If you run Windows 7 Starter or Home Basic, you have to manually switch back and forth between the Ion and Intel GMA graphics which requires a reboot. The AMD solutions are perfect at home with Windows 7 Starter.

As shown by Laptop Magazine's review of the Asus Eee PC 1015PN, cramming a dual core Atom N550 and Ion graphics into a small 10.1-inch netbook results in a fairly hot combo. This keeps the fan working overtime and results in a significant drop in battery life. In the Laptop Mag review, the Asus Eee PC 1015PN would get 2 hours less battery life than the nearly identical Asus Eee 1015PEM, even when not running the Ion graphics. The AMD solution should provide a cooler running platform.

We expect the 10.1-inch AMD C-50  Fusion will come in about Php22,000 to Php24,000 with an operating system. Given that Apple's iPad can play HD content and 3G games, better graphics at a lower price point is needed for netbooks to stay in the game.

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