AMD exudes post-lawsuit afterglow

Chipmaker might still be in Intel's shadow market share-wise, but its star is rising now that "fairness" is restored and more IT vendors are tapping AMD chips for their products, says exec.
Written by Kevin Kwang, Contributor

Five years after filing an antitrust lawsuit against rival chipmaker Intel, Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) is now spreading its wings again, hoping to recapture lost time and penetrate the server and PC markets in earnest, says a company executive.

That AMD emerged victorious in the long-running legal tussle against incumbent market leader, Intel, lifted it to a higher altitude. Not only did the former pocket a princely sum of US$1.25 billion, the smaller chipmaker also inked a five-year, cross-licensing agreement with Intel that was expected to pave the way for PC makers to build devices based on both companies' processors.

"This has provided the ground rules for all parties to play [by] while restoring a sense of fairness in the marketplace," said Benjamin Williams, corporate vice president and general manager of AMD Asia-Pacific.

During an interview with ZDNet Asia, he pointed to the industry backing up AMD not only with words, but through their actions as well. Lenovo's decision to include AMD processors into its ThinkPad line earlier this year was proof of the market's support, he added.

More than just producing value-for-money processors though, AMD is also embarking on an effort to shift the conversation between chipmakers and customers away from "synthetic bench-marking" and technical specifications, noted Williams.

"We hope to center our conversation with customers on what they expect to use the PC for, and thus simplifying the purchasing process for end-users," said Williams of this marketing approach, which falls under its "Vision" banner.

Q: Tell us more about "Vision" and what you hope to achieve with this.
Williams: We moved into the 'Vision' roadmap some 200 days ago and it is gaining traction among PC makers. Instead of branding our chips according to synthetic benchmarks, we have bunched them into four categories: Vision, Vision Premium, Vision Ultimate and Vision Black.

What this branding does is to free us up from having to talk to customers about how much gigahertz, RAM or other hardware specifications there are in each device and move the conversation to revolve around what the user wants from the computer.

For instance, consumers using a notebook with the Vision chip will get to enjoy casual gaming, watching online videos and Web browsing capabilities. Moving up a level, devices with Vision Premium chips will feature Blu-ray and video conversion capabilities in addition to the basic functions mentioned earlier. This goes all the way up to Vision Black, which is targeted at hardcore gamers and PC users.

AMD CEO Dirk Meyer said in a New York Times article that the company is "relatively under-represented in the notebook market". What is the company doing to address this?
Besides the Lenovo example, Hewlett-Packard has also announced last week that 14 of its notebooks will come packaged with AMD's Vision processor technology, which represents a significant win for us.

In the coming days, you will also hear of other PC makers such as Acer, Toshiba and Dell Computer unveil new notebook and ultrathin notebook lines that will incorporate our chips as well. In total, we are expecting our partners to introduce 109 mainstream notebooks and 26 ultrathin notebooks based on our chips this year. This is three times the amount of notebooks and 30 percent more ultrathin notebooks that will enter the market with AMD chips compared to 2009.

Our Vision branding will also help these companies and their sales staff better sell their products. This is because they can make a quicker sales pitch, which is something I like to call the 'last 10 feet and first 10 words'. The 'last 10 feet' is the distance when customers walk towards a PC they are interested in and move closer to assess the device's form factor and aesthetics. After that, the 'first 10 words' that comes out from the sales person's mouth should be: 'What do you want to do with your personal computer?'

Based on our internal research, we find that most mainstream customers are looking at computers based on what they will be using it for, rather than the specifications of the device. So by engaging them in a conversation that focuses on what the device can be used for at an optimal user experience, the intuitiveness of the sales process should resonate well with consumers and businesses.

While this sales pitch might appeal to mainstream customers who are not so tech-savvy, how will AMD engage the hardcore PC users who are used to evaluating PCs through their specifications?
We are not saying that the conversation around specifications will go away entirely. For this demographic, we will highlight the fact that while processor power is important, they should also ask: 'What can the system do for me?'

We are not looking simply at processor-centric marketing but on how other aspects such as the visual experience have an impact on the user as well.

Speaking about graphics, can you give us any updates on AMD's Fusion line of accelerated processing unit (APU)?
We're coming along with the technology and it is on track to be introduced in early 2011. I would also like to point out that Fusion is not just about integrating the CPU and GPU, but also about the chipset, as many people often forget that the chipset eats up quite a bit of power as well.

We're constantly looking at the management of the platform and how the chip will efficiently toggle between using the discrete graphic chip for heavy visual-related applications, such as Adobe Photoshop, and moving to the integrated graphic card for activities like casual browsing.

While our competitors advocate for either the processor way or the graphics way of doing things, AMD, as a platform player, is looking to bring both the CPU and GPU together to optimize the computing process.

It's all about the power management and overall user experience, and these are aspects that we are already looking into with our current portfolio of chips.

The company recently launched its Opteron 8- and 12-core server processors. Any update on AMD's server strategy?
We effectively removed the "4P tax" when we unveiled our fifth-generation Opteron chip and found that by doing so, we helped revive a market segment that was slowly dying off due to customers not wanting to pay for two two-core processors to run a four-core processor server.

In the near future, we will be announcing plans to introduce our Opteron 4000 processor, which will be targeted at cloud computing infrastructures and large datacenter environments. This is an arena where cost is the ultimate criterion for customers and we are looking to provide the best performance per watt for them with this new offering.

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