With this week’s launch of the AMD “Trinity” processor chipsets—now renamed to the more pedestrian 2nd-Generation A-Series Accelerated Processing Units (APUs)—both of the major microprocessor makers are armed for battle. Intel’s entry, the third-generation Core processor chipsets, code-named “Ivy Bridge,” debuted in desktop form recently, while portable versions will roll out through June. But what both companies are offering is similar: new-generation hardware that is smaller, thinner, and more power-efficient than ever before, and perfect for a coming generation of Windows 8-based Ultrabooks, tablets, hyrid PCs, and other devices. Oh, and they’ll work just fine with traditional PCs too.
“The 2nd-Generation A-Series APU is a ground-up improved design over the previous generation, enabling a best-in-class PC mobility, entertainment, and gaming experience,” an AMD press release notes, adding that devices based on this chipset can experience up to 12 hours of battery life while providing up to a 29 percent increase in processing power and up to a 56 percent increase in graphics performance over its predecessor.
Intel’s claims for the third-generation Core chipset are similar. “The quad-core third-generation Intel Core processor family delivers dramatic visual and performance computing gains for gamers, media enthusiasts, and mainstream users alike,” the company noted at its own launch a few weeks back. “The new processors are the first chips in the world made using Intel’s 22-nanometer (nm) 3-D tri-Gate transistor technology.”
Systems based on the Intel chips have been rolling out over the past few weeks, including a full slate of new desktop PCs from major PC makers such as HP and, more recently, new ultra-thin portable computers from Dell, HP, Lenovo, and others. Lenovo, for example, this week announced a full revamp of its ThinkPad line of portable computers, each of which is getting “Ivy Bridge”-based chipsets.
The AMD entries, meanwhile, appear to position the company’s offerings at a more budget-friendly part of the market. Whereas Ultrabooks based on Intel’s chips tend to average about $1,000, new Ultrabook-like portable machines based on AMD A-Series chips start at about $500. (Although many of these machines would otherwise qualify as an Ultrabook, that name is an Intel brand and it requires, among other things, an Intel processor.)
Many PC makers, of course, will offer machines with both chipsets. HP last week, for example, announced a new lineup of “Ivy Bridge”-based ENVY Ultrabooks. But it also revealed a similar lineup of so-called “Sleekbook” machines that will utilize AMD “Trinity” chipsets.
This initial flurry of Ivy Bridge/Trinity Ultrabooks and ultra-thin computers is interesting. But the real battle will happen this holiday season when Windows 8 hits the street, accompanied by an as-yet-unrevealed lineup of new PCs and devices. PC makers are expected to unveil various slate and convertible tablets, hybrid PCs (like the Lenovo YOGA), and other non-traditional devices in addition to more typical Ultrabook and desktop PCs.
But the real dark horse is the coming generation of ARM-based devices that will run a new Windows 8 variant called Windows RT. Technically devices and not PCs, these new machines will be very thin and light, and will offer stunning battery life, according to Microsoft. But the reliability and performance of these machines is unknown, and compatibility issues could hinder sales: Windows RT-based devices won't be able to run any of the Windows software that’s currently available to users. Windows 8-based PCs—whether they’re based on Intel or AMD chipsets—will be able to run all of this software.
This, at least, gives AMD and Intel a common enemy. So, while they'll continue to compete with each other, Windows 8 also marks a new era in their relationship, and the entry of a shared enemy in ARM, which had previously been used only in smartphones and tablets like the iPad.