AMD launches Puma for notebook push

Advanced Micro Devices has launched a series of chips for notebook computers in a bid to regain a competitive position against the world’s biggest chip maker.

AMD, which in April posted its sixth consecutive quarterly loss amid missteps and market-share losses to Intel, said the launch of the processors and related parts, code-named Puma, is its largest-ever launch for notebook personal computers. AMD counts more than 100 different notebook PCs designed to use versions of the Puma platform. “This is double the design wins over any previous mobile launches,” Leslie Sobon, director of product marketing at AMD, said.

PC makers using Puma chips include Acer, Asus, Dell, Fujitsu Siemens Computers and Hewlett-Packard, Sobon said. Prices for the mobile PCs will be mid-range for laptops, from about $700 up to $2,000. Most will be available in time for the commercially important US back-to-school shopping season, and some will be available this week.

Growth in desktop PCs has been slowing for years, and the mobile segment is where the fastest growth is in the PC industry. Market research firm IDC predicts that consumers will buy more mobile PCs than desktop PCs by the end of this year.

“It is a good platform and I think the design wins are a testament to that fact,” IDC analyst Bob O’Donnell said. “Everybody wants a serious competitor to Intel, you can’t ignore that. But people aren’t going to randomly take an alternative if it’s not any good.”

Sunnyvale, California-based AMD is offering three versions of the Puma platform -- a collection of the microprocessor, wireless chips to connect to WiFi, and related chips. Puma uses AMD’s Turion X2 Ultra Dual-Core processor as its brain.

At the cheaper end, AMD’s new platform will use graphics technology integrated in the chipset, allowing video-gaming and also good enough to play back digital media seamlessly.

A chipset is a collection of semiconductors and components surrounding the microprocessor, a computer’s electronic brain.

For those who want better graphics, AMD will sell another platform to PC makers for about $50 more. That will use both a graphics processing unit, from AMD’s ATI graphics unit, as well as the integrated graphics functions of the chipset.

Typically, Sobon said, when a PC has a discrete, or separate, graphics chip, the built-in integrated graphics functions of the chipset are disabled.

At the higher end, AMD will include a high-end discrete ATI graphics chip for more intense gaming as well as working with high-definition home movies and the like, Sobon said.

“What we’ve heard clearly from our customers is that consumers have enough productivity power. They don’t need to open Excel or Microsoft Word any faster,” Sobon said. “What people need more performance on is ripping CDs, watching high-definition movies, editing and creating home movies.”

The initial focus of the launch is on consumers, but AMD will also target small and medium-size businesses, which is a high-volume market and profitable for big PC makers, AMD said.

Puma’s processing engine will not be the Barcelona core, which is in AMD’s latest chip used to power servers, but had a small design flaw that delayed volume shipments. AMD has since fixed the problem and aims to ramp up production of Barcelona.

“Barcelona is another bet they have,” said Roger Kay, president of market researcher Endpoint Technologies Associates. “I had initially thought that Puma would not do that much for them simply because (Intel’s mobile chip) Centrino has so much momentum.”

“But as it’s unfolded it looks like Puma might be quite successful for AMD,” Kay said. “In mainstream notebook computing, this is a very viable alternative to Intel.”

Image: AMD aims to get into consumer laptops with the Puma chips

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