AMD's string of tablet failures may end with Mullins chip

AMD releases a new tablet chip called Mullins and a laptop chip called Beema, which are based on the Puma+ architecture

Advanced Micro Devices hopes its latest Mullins tablet processor will find acceptance after three failed predecessors and a handful of unsuccessful devices.

AMD's three new Mullins chips -- identified by the Micro suffix, such as A10 Micro-6700T-- are targeted at low-power laptops and detachable screen models. AMD also announced new laptop chips code-named Beema on Tuesday.

Tablets will be faster, have better graphics and deliver longer battery life with Mullins, AMD said. AMD is boasting two times better graphics and performance-per-watt compared to its predecessor. Power consumption has been slashed to 4.5 watts and less, while older tablet chips consumed no less than 8 watts.

Beema, like Mullins, is based on the Puma+ microarchitecture, which is an improved version of the Jaguar core. Beema consumes a maximum of 15 watts of power, which is 10 watts less than its predecessor. The chip boasts incremental CPU performance and graphics improvements.

AMD has said that tablets, laptops and hybrids based on the new chips will start shipping during the second half of this year.

Mullins is critical for AMD's attempts to stay afloat in the challenging tablet market dominated by ARM. The previous chip, called Temash, is not in any tablet today, and its predecessors, the Hondo and Z-01 tablet chips, were failures after appearing in only a handful of unsuccessful devices.

AMD rival Intel had success with the Bay Trail chip and older Atom chips in tablets, which totaled 5 million in shipments during the first quarter this year. AMD's new chips can outperform Bay Trail, and even some of Intel's Core processors code-named Haswell used in tablets, said Kevin Lensing, senior director of mobility solutions at AMD.

Intel is projecting tablet chip shipments of 40 million by the end of this year, and is providing subsidies to tablet makers for using its x86 chips. AMD can't afford to sell low-cost tablets as it can't fight Intel on margins, and has said it is willing to forgo low-end unit shipments in favor of profit margins.

Mullins will go in Windows tablets and hybrids, but not in models under US$200, Lensing said.

In comparison, tablets based on ARM and Intel's x86 Atom processors start at under $100. Tablets with Mullins could be priced under $300 in some cases, but the goal is to provide performance tablets with strong graphics capabilities, he said.

No battery life estimates for devices running on the Mullins and Beema chips were provided by AMD. Lensing said the battery life could vary depending on the screen size and other features in laptops and tablets.

Lensing said the previous chips were good on performance and battery life, and Temash came out at a time when Windows 8 was not being heavily accepted in tablets.

But the market is yet to evolve, and there will be growth in Windows tablets, hybrids and laptops, he said. There are no current plans to bring native Android support to x86 chips like Mullins, Lensing said.

AMD has cranked up clock speeds in Mullins and Beema, which have better power-management features than previous chips, Lensing said. The clock speeds -- which exceed 2GHz on some chip variants -- can scale up quickly when performance is needed. AMD has cut down on components, and there is a better balance of power and performance.

The integrated graphics cores have better video streaming, bandwidth management, upscaling and filtering features. The cores can improve the quality of video without a user touching it, Lensing said. The chips have the latest GCN (Graphics Core Next) cores, which are variants of technology used in Radeon graphics processors.

Beema and Mullins also have an on-chip security layer to protect systems from being compromised. The hardware layer, built on ARM's Cortex-A5 core, also helps in secure boot, and authentication.

The new Mullins chips include:

- 2.2GHz quad-core A10 Micro-6700T R6, 4.5 watts, 2MB of cache, 500MHz GPU clock speed

- 1.6GHz quad-core A4 Micro-6400T R3, 4.5 watts, 2MB of cache, 350MHz GPU clock speed

- 1.4GHz dual-core E1 Micro-6200T R2, 3.95 watts, 1MB of cache, 300MHz GPU clock speed

The Beema chips include:

- 2.4GHz quad-core A6-6310 R4, 15 watts, 2MB of cache, 800MHz GPU clock speed

- 1.8GHz quad-core A4-6210 R3, 15 watts, 2MB of cache, 600MHz GPU clock speed

- 1.5GHz quad-core E2-6110 R2, 15 watts, 2MB of cache, 500MHz GPU clock speed

- 1.35GHz dual-core E1-6010 R2, 10 watts, 1MB of cache, 350MHz GPU clock speed

All the chips have 128 graphics cores and support DDR3 memory. Pricing on the chips was not provided by the company.

Agam Shah covers PCs, tablets, servers, chips and semiconductors for IDG News Service. Follow Agam on Twitter at @agamsh. Agam's e-mail address is agam_shah@idg.com

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