With the PC market on the skids, chipmakers are turning their attention to tablets. Today nearly all tablets use processors based on the ARM architecture, but the introduction, later this month of Windows 8, gives the x86 competition a fresh shot at the mobile market.
With that mind, AMD announced a new Z-Series processor, code-named Hondo, for Windows 8 tablets and hybrids. The Z-60 APU (Accelerated Processing Unit) has a 1.0GHz dual-core processor, two CPU cores and integrated Radeon HD 6250 graphics processor, which supports DirectX 11. AMD said the processor is currently shipping and tablets based on the platform later this year.
The Z-Series isn’t new, but to date AMD hasn’t had much luck in tablets (the MSI WindPad was perhaps the biggest win for the first generation Z-01). The Z-60 is a relatively minor update. It is based on the same Bobcat core and manufactured by foundry TSMC using the same 40nm recipe. The bigger changes will arrive sometime next year when AMD rolls out a new APU, code-named Temash, manufactured on a more advanced 28nm process. It will feature a new core design (code-named Jaguar), which will support new instructions, process more instructions per cycle, run at higher frequencies and incorporate new power management features, according to an AMD talk at a recent chip conference.
Until then AMD is largely focused on reducing power to fit the Z-Series into tablets as thin as 10mm (for comparison the latest iPad is 9.4mm). On its own reference tablet design, AMD said the total system power has been reduced to 2.9 watts when idle, 3.9 watts during Web browsing, and 4.8 watts during video playback. AMD says that is sufficient for about 6 hours of video playback or 8 hours of Web browsing, as well two weeks of standby power. The new platform also includes AMD's Start Now technology, a set of BIOS tweaks that it says reduce the boot and system resume times.
Competitor Intel has two solutions for Windows 8 tablets and hybrids: the recently-announced Atom Z2760 (also known as Clover Trail) and the ultra low-voltage Core i3 and Core i5 processors. (Here's a .) The Z2760, a direct competitor to AMD's Z-60, is a dual-core Atom, running at up to 1.8GHz, with an integrated graphics processor manufactured on the company's 32nm process. Intel claims Clover Trail will work in tablets as thin as 8.5mm and deliver 10 hours of video playback and more than three weeks of standby time. Intel has been developing its own technologies to allow tablets, convertibles and Ultrabooks to start-up more quickly and receive updates while in standby.
Both AMD and Intel are targeting "no compromises" tablets and hybrids that combine the mobility and user experience of the iPad with the performance and compatibility of a full Windows PC (AMD-based tablets should also be able to run some Android apps using the AppZone player based on the BlueStacks technology). These will compete not only with the iPad and Android tablets, but also with ARM-based tablets running Windows RT. It will be interesting to see, once Windows 8 launches, whether consumers will like the idea of a single, do-it-all device or whether they will continue to choose separate, best-of-breed tablets and laptops.