Intel, AMD Ready To Battle

The long-standing rivalry between Intel and AMD will continue this year and consumers will benefit from better, faster processors.

The rivalry between Intel and AMD has been a long and bruising one. But for consumers the rivalry has been good news with a never-ending stream of better processors being made available to them. This year is unlikely to be any different and already Intel has thrown down the gauntlet by announcing 17 new processors during the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas. AMD played a slightly quieter role at CES but also had a few tricks up its sleeve. We take a look at the year ahead and what it holds in store for consumers.

If you’re going to watch any one area this year then it must be the mobile processor sector. Not just for phones and tablet devices but also for ultra-portables, netbooks and other mini all-in-one units. Netbooks were big last year and this is going remain true in 2010. It’s also the one area in which the tables could be turned as lesser-known players such as Qualcomm and ARM become more prominent as the convergence between mobile phones and PCs continues.

It will also be thanks to convergence that new breeds of ultra-portable devices will start entering the market. Smartbooks – with bigger screens than smartphones but less cumbersome than netbooks – will in all likelihood be the meeting place between smartphones and notebooks.

Right now Intel is fairly dominant in the netbook sector with its Atom processor but this could come under some pressure in the coming year. ARM’s low-power Cortex mobile processors could well unseat Atom in a range of smaller devices. Traditionally ARM is a player in the mobile phone and gadget market – its Cortex processors power Motorola’s Droid and Apple’s iPhone 3GS – but is now emerging as a new threat in the portable laptop market.

Intel’s Atom won’t be overshadowed easily, however, and at CES the company showed off its new Pine Trail Atom processor which it says is 60% smaller than previous versions and 20% more power efficient. AMD, on the other hand is hoping that its Neo platform with its dual processors will grab it a piece of the netbook pie. AMD is claiming the Neo is faster than Intel’s Atom and already Asus has an EEE PC netbook based on the Neo.


On the desktop there will still be a lot to look forward to. For a start, quad-core processors will start to filter through to the mainstream this year.  And six-core processors are on the horizon with Intel announcing plans to release their first of this ilk this year. Initially they will be aimed at the enthusiast market but will filter down as the year wears on.

Intel will also be rolling out its new, simplified branding strategy this year in an effort to make choosing the right processor easier for users. At the high end is the Core i7 with the Core i5 and the Core i3 filling the midrange and low-end spots respectively. Not all of the new architectures will be available in in all three versions. The Lynnfield chip, for example, which is for desktop PCs, will be available as either Intel Core i5 or Intel Core i7. The mobile-focused Clarksfield, on the other hand, will be available under the Intel Core i7 name. The 32-nanometer Arrandale chips for mobile will be available as the Core i3 initially but will also include the Core i5 and Core i7 in the future. The 32-nanometer Clarkdale desktop chip will be available under the Core i3 and Intel Core i5 brands.

The Arrandale chip is of particular interest to users as it will be the first mainstream processor to integrate two processor cores and a graphics function into a single chip. Other developments from Intel this year include its Turbo Boost technology. Turbo Boost manages performance requirements on the fly, providing full power when needed and scaling back individual cores when demands drop, ultimately reducing power consumption.

While Intel is going big on 32 nanometer chips this year it looks like AMD will be holding off until later in the year and will probably only ship 32nm processors in serious numbers in 2011. In fact, AMD is not releasing a great deal of new processors this year at all. The one that does stand out, however, is the Thuban, a six-core desktop processor that the company is planning for this year. Thuban will be 45nm processors and will be compatible with current AM3 motherboards which is good news for consumers. Intel’s six core i7 980X processor is expected to be released around March this year so AMD is likely to be close behind in launching its Thuban.

The other big trend over the course of this year will be the increasing numbers of processors that merge processing power with graphics processing. This will either mean processors that integrate graphics processing into multi-core processors, as Intel’s Arrandale does, or handing processing tasks off to high-end graphics cards, which is where AMD seems to be focused.

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