AMD's Llano - finally, vindication!
One of the problems with competing with a dominant company like Intel or Apple is the tendency to chase them from behind.
AMD did that for decades and while they - surprisingly - got ahead a couple of times (largely because Intel stumbled), they were never able to capitalize on that success and gain a sustained advantage.
In the end, being a better Intel was always Intel’s fight to win.
In an effort to alter this dynamic, AMD bought ATI, a very risky and expensive move indeed, in order to move around, rather than through Intel. And this week, their impressive new Llano APU came to market.
Of course, being different poses distinct risks. We really aren't a race that likes differences, unless we see them as strong benefits. Still, this was the only path available to AMD if they wanted to stay in the x86 business and take the fight to Intel.
I’m at AMD’s first developer conference and Llano launch event this week and it looks like they got it done.
In AMD’s case, the decision was whether it wanted to fight a familiar battle on a field both they and Intel knew well: against the latter company's known weaknesses. Alternatively, AMD could have chosen weapons and a field of battle neither company knew well, such as facing competitors like Qualcomm which were vastly more capable than either corporation
While Qualcomm was far weaker than Intel, it was hardly alone in what was a hard fought space with even tighter prices and margins than AMD was used to. A market defined by mobile chipsets that AMD (at the time) didn’t have and Intel was attempting to enter largely unsuccessfully. And obviously, Intel boasted (and continues to boast) far more resources than AMD could have ever hoped to have.
While the company maintained a low-end segment that was very successful, success was often attributed to the fact that it was bundled - and not because it was the most competent.
ATI had been getting soundly beaten by Nvidia but still was competitive, allowing AMD to afford the company. Sure, Nvidia may have been the stronger partner, but that strength would have made the purchase price more than AMD could afford.
The result? A high level of executive conflict between the two companies.
Of course, Nvidia would have entered the relationship as the stronger player, likely creating a conflicted mess. While AMD acquired a damaged company, they could both afford and manage it, as the damage was known and believed to be fixable.
However, this week it all came together, with the end resulting being an APU that provides more visual performance than comparable Intel silicon at a given level of power - resulting in laptop computers with stronger performance and superior battery life.
So far I’ve only seen HP’s AMD line - but these are some of the best laptops HP has ever brought to market.
Attractive and well-priced, they sport strong performance and many have battery life in the 10+ hour range compared to the 5 hour standard for others in their class. It looks like AMD's strategy worked, so now we’ll see if the market rewards AMD and its partners.