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AMD, Intel and Nvidia start 2013 with bold chip statements at CES

Analysis 2013 already shaping up to be a hot year in the chip market
Wed Jan 09 2013, 16:46
The Strip in Las Vegas

BOTH AMD and Intel made important chip architecture announcements at CES, while Nvidia announced its latest Tegra 4 system-on-chip, all of which look set to make 2013 a vintage year in the consumer semiconductor market.

Back in 2011, Intel showed up to CES with its Sandy Bridge chip architecture and blew AMD out of the water.

Two years on, it didn't quite deliver the same impact as Sandy Bridge but it did bring its Ivy Bridge processor architecture below the 10W TDP threshold, a move that should worry ARM vendors.

AMD on the other hand, announced next generation accelerated processing units (APUs), claiming it has signed big brands to use its chips, something that it desperately needs if it is to win the shelf space battle against Intel.

AMD's CES announcements were slightly out of the ordinary because the firm didn't just reveal products that it was shipping into the channel, but next generation architectures such as Kaven.

The firm also announced that Hondo, which it launched only back in October, has been surpassed within six months by Temash, a quad-core x86 APU that will ship in the first half of 2013 and be pitched at tablets and laptops that have swivel screens.

AMD claimed Temash provides double the performance of Hondo and will also support Windows 8. The firm didn't say anything about Temash supporting Linux, though given that Hondo supported only Windows 8 and its rival Intel is not seeing Linux support as a particularly big selling point, it is likely that AMD will stick with Windows 8 for now.

While AMD also announced Kabini, a dual and quad core APU for thin and light laptops, the firm's most important announcement was about the system builders and OEMs that have picked up its chips.

AMD revealed that US consumer electronics unit Vizio along with well known computer brands Asus and HP picked up its chips, and most importantly the firm used the words "stunning designs" and "premium" rather than relying on more modest adjectives such as budget and value.

AMD's problem is not with its chips but rather the machines that use its chips. AMD has long played the budget game, trying to get its chips into cheap, and in many cases nasty, machines. The trouble is that consumers these days - recession or no recession - are increasingly choosing to buy premium, or at least perceived to be premium, electronics.

Apple is the obvious example in both laptops and smartphones, but there are others. Lenovo's Thinkpad range still remains popular despite carrying a significant price premium over most of the other laptops found in PC World, Best Buy or most other retail outfits.

AMD's present generation of chips, regardless of its somewhat lacklustre showing on hardware benchmark websites, is more than adequate to power most consumer PC workloads. However the real problem that AMD faces is that when consumers are at the store looking at machines, they don't see the chip inside but rather than design of the case, so picking up firms such as Vizio, which does a pretty effective job of marketing its products in the US by having stylish designs, is a good move.

AMD didn't give out a great deal of technical detail about its upcoming APUs and it's not surprising, given that it doesn't expect anything to ship this quarter. However its decision to publicise some vague details of its 2013 APU roadmap is most likely a move to emphasise that the firm definitely will be around in the second half of 2013.

AMD had a terrible 2012 with very few positives, and most of the negative press surrounded the company's future following significant layoffs, the reported hiring of management consultants and engagement of JP Morgan to look for a buyer.

The firm's decision to announce partners and upcoming products should calm industry fears in the short term, but there's no denying that in 2013, AMD needs to get its APUs adopted in more than just low-cost, forgettable laptops.

Intel, on the other hand, flexed its manufacturing muscle at CES by showing off 7W Ivy Bridge chips for use in selected ultrabook designs. The firm's ability to bring its Ivy Bridge chip architecture down to 7W should have played on Paul Jacob's mind as he was delivering Qualcomm's keynote in the main hall at CES.

 

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