Though Advanced Micro Devices will not be inside branded ultrabooks, it is making a play for that market. Will consumers care which chipmaker is inside?
The quick answer: yes, if you're price sensitive. "They'll come into a market behind Intel and then do what they do at a lower price," said Deron Kershaw, an analyst at Gap Intelligence.
Ultrabooks are skinny, light laptops that attempt to combine the portability of a tablet with the productivity of a laptop.
How low can AMD-based systems go? "Our...solution will enable a full featured, high-performance user experience well below $1,000 (US). Look for offerings (systems) around mid-year," said an AMD spokeswoman in response to an e-mail query.
So, what does "well below" mean? Kershaw thinks some AMD systems could go as low as $500. If that happens, AMD would undercut the least-expensive Intel systems at mid-year by about $200. Indeed, Hewlett-Packard has been marketing a popular AMD-based Pavilion dm1z ultraportable for a couple of years (see image above), showing that decent AMD-based systems can be very inexpensive.
As a yardstick, Toshiba will bring out a new Satellite series of Intel-based ultrabooks later this year targeting an entry price of $699--or possibly lower. (Toshiba's Intel-based Portege Z835 ultrabook has been on sale at Best Buy for $799 and has dipped occasionally to $699.)
Of course, not all AMD systems will compete with Intel in the lowest price ranges. More full-featured designs will be priced accordingly. "AMD certainly brings more to the table than low cost," the AMD spokeswoman said.
That includes graphics processors (see image above) that typically out perform Intel's graphics solutions--though AMD's CPU (central processing unit) performance lags Intel. And AMD may have a tougher time in the future making the argument for faster graphics, as Intel devotes more and more resources to improving graphics and multimedia processing on its chips.
In the end none of this branding may even matter that much, however. Ultimately, ultrabooks and ultrathins will be the mainstream. And we'll be back to the same age-old Intel-AMD rivalry. Oh, and throw Texas Instruments, Qualcomm, and Nvidia into the mix too when PC makers bring out Windows 8 designs with ARM processors from those companies inside.