Sunnyvale (CA) - There is no denying that desktop CPU sales are on what seems to be an unstoppable decline. Intel expects to begin shipping more notebook processors than desktop CPUs sometime later this year and while AMD may be trailing this trend a bit, it is on the same path. Of course, this means that the desktop business units have to get more creative in pitching their products: Just like Intel, AMD is now more seriously marketing a "business" platform for its single-, dual-, triple- and quad-core processors that are tailored to better meet the needs of IT departments.
Intel has been marketing its "vPro" business desktop platform for some time with quite some success next to its regular consumer platforms, which are now described as "all-in-one" systems. It is no secret that AMD is under tremendous pressure these days and is seeking new ways to make money off its CPUs. A vPro-like strategy is an obvious opportunity, but has been missing in AMD’s lineup so far. Not surprisingly, AMD is estimated to hold less than 20% of this market at this time.
Moving more seriously into business platforms only makes sense for AMD. The general advantage of a "Business Class" platform, according to the company, is more stability and longevity in the sense that AMD won’t modify the platform over a greater span of time ("up to" 24 months). There are also a few more security and management features that differentiate a "Business Class" system from your average Tourist Consumer Class PC.
We are not sure, if the company’s effort is enough to make a huge impact and we will leave that up to you to decide. Here is what the platform consists of: A "B"-series single-, dual-, triple- or quad-core processor as well as a motherboard carrying AMD’s 780V or Nvidia’s MCP78 chipset.
Looking at the motherboards first: While it is nice that Nvidia is an option, the focus clearly is on the 780V chipset. It is a trimmed-down version of the previously introduced 780G. Instead of a 500 MHz Radeon 3200 engine in the 780G, it runs on a 350 MHz 3100 version, comes with support of up to four monitors, but does not support UVD and hybrid graphics. Motherboards designed for this business platform integrate a trusted platform module (TPM 1.2) as well as support of in-band and out-of-band manageability features based on the Alert Standard Format 2.0 (ASF) specification, which offers a feature set comparable to Intel’s Active Management Technology.
The more interesting (or less interesting, depending on your point of view) part are the processors of the platform and we aren’t quite sure whether AMD is shooting itself in the foot again. There are seven available processors, one single-core, four dual-cores, one triple-core and one quad-core - covering the entry-level, mainstream and high-performance computing segments as well as power consumption levels from 45 to 95 watts. These processors carry a "B" in their product name, but are technically not different from the regular batch of desktop processors. The simple difference for the buyer is a longer warranty (3 years instead of only 1 year).
But there are two interesting characteristics of these processors. We expect that buyers of these processors are tech-savvy and will look very closely at what they are buying, especially when it comes to the triple- and quad-core processors: Do these CPUs come with the TLB bug or not? The sequence numbers ending on full 100s suggest that these are B2 stepping chips and therefore integrate the bug, as AMD usually designates its TLB bug-free B3 series Phenom processors with a XX50 number. However, AMD representatives confirmed that these are indeed B3 stepping processors and we were told that the company decided to go without a 50-series sequence in order to not confuse its customers. But we wonder: Don’t IT managers know about the importance of the 50-series designation? Isn’t it even more confusing to use this designation on some CPUs and not on others?
Consistency is key in this market and the product naming is a hiccup in our view.
The second issue relates to the longevity of these processors and what we typically call investment protection. Most processors in this lineup, which, by the way, sell for about 7% more than comparable, non-"B" desktop processors, are dual-core chips. Interestingly, AMD noted that triple-core processors are likely to have replaced dual-core CPUs in the mainstream. In some way, the current dual-cores don’t really carry the longevity promise from a computing performance, but only from a power consumption perspective. So, if it is performance you are looking for, go with a triple- or dual-core right away and stay with a dual-core only if power consumption matters.
Several vendors, including HP, Lenovo and Dell, will be offering AMD’s business platform in their PCs. Prices will range from just over $300 to about $900.
Prices for the new processors are $230 for the Phenom X4 9600B, $175 for the Phenom X3 8600B, $120 for the Athlon X2 5400B and $110 for the Athlon X2 5200B, $95 for the Athlon X2 5000B, $80 for the Athlon X2 4450B and $50 for the Athlon 1640B.