After revolutionizing netbooks, AMD Fusion now takes aim at mainstream notebooks

After revolutionizing the netbook market, AMD’s new Fusion chips are all set to extend their magic to mainstream laptops.

Two vendors, Toshiba and Lenovo, have released the first ever laptops built on the new AMD Fusion Llano platform (A series) — bringing high-end graphics to entry-level notebooks.

AMD Fusion is noted for its ability to drive prices down, while simultaneously improving the graphics capability.

For example, with the introduction of the E-Series at the beginning of this year, netbooks costing around Rs 18,000 can now play even full HD (2 megapixel) Youtube videos. Earlier, netbooks — built with Intel Atom processors and costing Rs 16,000 — would find it difficult to play even plain HD (1 megapixel) Youtube videos.

Now, the same transition and revolution is going to hit the ‘normal’ laptop market, with the introduction of the A series Fusion chips.

Toshiba introduced three models a week ago, starting with a $550 (Rs 24,750) 14-inch model. Among them was a “high-end” laptop L775D-S7226, which had a 17.3 inch display with a resolution of 1600 x 900 pixels (1.44 megapixels) and costs only $600 (Rs 27,000).

Similarly, Lenovo introduced its first ‘A Series’ (Llano) processor notebooks yesterday. Both the 14 inch E425 and 15.6-inch E525 start at $550 (Rs 24,750.) [Prices are usually 10%-15% higher in India compared to the US due to taxes.]

If it was high-definition Youtube videos that Fusion brought to the netbook, it is gaming that will come to the ordinary notebook with Fusion.

So far, PC gaming with even modest detailing was impossible on ordinary laptops. Intel has tried to change it with its new second generation Core-i chip this year, but still, many games fail to play smoothly at moderate detail levels on laptops costing Rs 30,000 to 35,000.

This is where the ‘A Series’ comes in. The 17.3 inch Toshiba model, for example, comes with a quad-core A6 processor. It is able to play most games in moderate detail, and some games in high detail, without any stuttering.

Models with the slightly higher end A8 processors will do even better and address the requirements of all ‘ordinary’ PC gamers.

To achieve similar performance, a consumer would have to go in for a notebook with a mid-range graphics card (512 MB) that would bump up the price to Rs 35,000. In other words, the A Series chip has shaved off nearly Rs 8,000 from the price of the machine.

Besides, adding such a graphics processor would have also drained the battery around 30% faster.

Currently, the Fusion A Series based laptops can be expected to give around 4 to 5 hours of battery life on 14-inch notebook (with 3 cell batteries), while Intel-based ones give around 3 hours.

There is, however, a disadvantage. The A-Series chips, with a peak clock, speed of 2.4 GHz, have invested heavily into the graphics part.

As a result, it relies on a technology-standard known as OpenCL, to help it deal with heavy demands of processing power — such as, for example, that of a video editing software.

However, since the OpenCL standard itself is relatively knew, many programs are simply not designed to take advantage of it, and therefore, of the power of the built-in graphics processor.

As a result, apart from certain worthy exceptions, heavy processing power-dependent applications (mostly related to manipulating video) will feel slower on the A Series than on a second generation Core-i processor from Intel.

This is unlikely to bother most users, but is something to be kept in mind for those who do a lot of video-manipulation, at least till OpenCL support is built into most software.

None of these AMD Fusion ‘A Series’ based notebooks have been launched in India yet, but some are expected to find their way into the country later this month or in September.

It should also be noted that the AMD Fusion offerings for ‘normal’ laptops will undergo yet another change by mid next year. By then, AMD is expected to move from its 2007-vintage processor core, called the ‘K10′, to the new one, ‘Bulldozer.’

The Bulldozer cores are expected to be even more powerful and power-efficient, bringing more battery life.

Currently, AMD Fusion chips are built on two types of cores — the low power Bobcat cores (Fusion E Series) and the moderately powerful Llano cores (A Series.)

The Bulldozer would replace the Llano cores, even as the Bobcat cores will be tweaked further to reduce their power consumption to tablet levels.

Currently, the Llano chips (A Series) consume a maximum of 35 watts (comparable to second generation Core-i), while some of the Bobcat-based Fusion chips consume just 9 Watts. This is further expected to be reduced to less than 5 watts, giving AMD a shot at the tablet market as well.

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