Steep competition and lengthy R&D timelines aside, Lisa Su, senior vice president and general manager of AMD's global business units, is confident that AMD can hit that two-watt mark over the next two years.
"From a growth standpoint, it's clear that ultra-thins and tablets will be two of the biggest growth vectors in the mobile space, and we're going to go after that with a vengeance,” Su said at the financial analyst event. "What we see there is taking all of the low-power techniques that we know about, we can absolutely get x86 to less than 2 watts."
Introducing a two watt APU in 2014 will put AMD nearly two years behind Intel’s Atom "Medfield" mobile processor and even further behind ARM’s low-power architectures found in iPad’s today. But Sergis Mushell, principal analyst for market researcher Gartner, told CRN that AMD still stands a fighting chance in the tablet market, and not necessarily because of its CPU technology.
Even if AMD chips don't reach that two watt target until 2014, Mushell said, the company’s long-standing GPU product line may ultimately give it a leg up against Intel. As more and more tablet computing happens at the cloud level, rather than the device level, graphics and presentation – rather than computational performance – will become a larger focus for tablet manufacturers.
Mushell noted that AMD could potentially follow the same model leveraged by Nvidia, another chip maker with a strong GPU heritage. Nvidia relies on ARM architectures to hit the computing and low-power benchmarks of its mobile Tegra chips, but what has really fueled the chips’ success is Nvidia’s graphics. AMD could take this same approach.
"It’s almost the same strategy, if you think about it, that Nvidia took," Mushell said. "Nvidia had the GPU heritage and then they licensed ARM and went into mobile devices, so it’s not a far stretch."
AMD openings its doors to third-party IP partners like ARM will most likely be a must for the company, Mushell told CRN. AMD also needs to drive its chip geometry down which may or may not be capable with its current foundry business GlobalFoundries. "This [low-power initiative] will drive AMD toward partnerships beyond what they have today," he said.