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Old 02-04-2011, 08:35 AM   #1 (permalink)
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Default The Brazos Review: AMD's E-350 Supplants ION for mini-ITX

AMD has been curiously absent from the value netbook and nettop segments since Atomís arrival nearly three years ago. These markets are highly profitable only for component vendors, as the OEMs that sell netbooks and nettops must survive on very slim margins in order to hit aggressive price points. It wasnít too long ago that we were shocked by $699 desktop PCs, but to now be able to get a fully functioning portable PC with display at below $300 is impressive. In order for the profit equation to work out however, you canít simply scale down a larger chip - you need an architecture targeted specifically at the type of very light workloads you expect to encounter in these segments. Underclocking and undervolting an architecture targeted at high end desktops or servers wonít cut it.

Generally a single microprocessor architecture can cover an order of magnitude of power envelopes. You can take an architecture from 10W - 100W using clock speed, voltage scaling and disabling features (e.g. cutting cache sizes). You canít efficiently take a 100W architecture and scale it down to 1W. Intel realized this with Atom, and what resulted was a new architecture designed to span the 0.5W - 5W range. Given the constraints of the process (Atom was built at 45nm) and a desire to keep die size down to a minimum (and thus maximize profits), Intel went with a dual-issue in-order architecture reminiscent of the old Pentium - but with a modern twist.

AMD came to the same realization. For it to compete in these value markets, AMD couldnít rely on its existing Phenom II derived architectures. The Phenom II and its relatives currently span a range of TDPs from 9W to 140W, and at the lower end of that spectrum weíre talking about some very low clock speeds and performance targets. Getting down to 1W was out of the question without a separate design.

What AMD came up with was a core called Bobcat, initially targeted for netbooks, notebooks, nettops and entry level desktops. Architecturally Bobcat is a significant step ahead of Atom: while still dual-issue, it features an out-of-order execution engine making it the Pentium Pro to Atomís Pentium.
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