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AMD finally answers Intel’s netbook monopoly

LaptopThere may still be a deal of indecision about what to call them - netbook, nettop, mini laptop - but small, cheap computers are certainly in vogue at the moment. And almost to a man, they use Intel's Atom processor. So far.

The Atom has come along since its launch last summer, with at least six different versions appearing in laptops and desktops - sorry, netbooks and nettops - that I've seen so far in the PC Advisor test lab. They're all low-power chips, usually rated around 2W or 3W thermal design power (TDP), somewhat slow in crunching serious numbers but good enough to run a web browser with suitable élan.

The chip also runs most normal PC code, although not - despite the best efforts of the Intel marketing people to tell me otherwise - SSE4, IntelVT or x86-64 code.

Netbook reviews

Where's the competition, you may ask? Well, there's the ARM platform seen in even smaller devices such as the Apple iPhone, and VIA is bubbling under with its C7 and Nano chips, the former now the weapon of choice for the One Laptop Per Child subnotebook. Which leaves, er, AMD...

We've been waiting for what seems an age for AMD's answer to the Atom. Considering the buoyancy of the market for mini laptops and low-power PCs, I find it surprising that the nearest thing that Intel has to 'competition' hasn't really sunk more R&D and marketing into this area.

Well actually it has. At least, a little R&D and manufacturing investment. Problem is, the firm hasn't done a good job of telling anyone about it.

HP's new sauce

I was looking forward to trying the new HP dv2 laptop for a variety of reasons. It's not often we manage to get review samples from Hewlett Packard (and in fact this sample actually came from PC World, the UK shop, not to be confused with PC World our US sister magazine), so it would be interesting to see what the world's largest technology company could offer with its new laptop range.

Plus, like many HP personal computers, it was using an AMD processor, a rarely seen part in a world under the Intel monopoly.

But more than that, the HP dv2 uses a low-power processor from its new mobile platform, codenamed Yukon. The AMD Athlon Neo 64 is a single-core processor with a TDP of around 15W. So, hotter and hungrier than the Atom, but also potentially more powerful.

At least, that was my hope, since the Atom is the lowest acceptable speed of processor to run a operating system such as Linux, Windows XP or Mac OS X.

At last, the AMD new mobile chip had landed, but with nary a trumpet call or even a phone call from AMD PR to say ‘That Yukon chip you keep asking about? Well, look under the bonnet of HP's new mini laptop to see what it can do!'

And exactly how fast is it? Short answer is, prior to testing: dunno. But what about the tyre-kicker's test, the clock speed? Well, AMD is as coy as ever on the numbers game. You won't find anything so gauche as processor frequency labels accompanying an AMD CPU. The CPU-Z app tells me it's about 800MHz, which obviously wouldn't look too cool against Intel's 'twice-the-speed' Atom running at 1.6GHz.

I'm still running benchmark tests on the HP Pavilion dv2 laptop in time for next issue, but am heartened to see it scores 48 in our standard WorldBench 6 test, using 10 different operations with real-world apps doing normal user tasks. Or about 50 percent quicker than most of the Intel Atom machines I've tested. Not bad for a sub-1GHz chip.

Shame it runs a bit warm, though, with the laptop's (thankfully quiet) fan exhausting a warm breeze from the left-hand chassis vents most of the time...

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