The time of Zacate is almost at hand.  (Source: Anandtech)

Brazos destroys Intel Atom in performance, but only earns a draw in performance with Atom+Ion. If it can beat Ion-based Atom netbooks like the Eee PC in price, Brazos will be the best option. Otherwise, Intel may retain a slight edge -- thanks to NVIDIA.  (Source: Asustek via Register)
If it can beat Atom+Ion netbooks in cost AMD will have this round in the bag

AMD several years back entered a phase where it was full of big talk, but delivered very little.  Then a couple of years ago it began to turn the corner, with its aggressive delivery of the Radeon 4000 series, 5000 series, and 6000 series allowing it to regain the lead in the discrete GPU market.

Now the company looks to follow-up on those successes, unleashing an intriguing new platform the netbook/ultra-mobile market.  Intel's Atom processor has long dominated this segment thanks to its low price Atom processors.  Atom's CPU performance has always been relatively good, but the performance of Intel's integrated GPUs is pretty abysmal.

AMD's new low-power platform Brazos goes for the throat, attacking Atom where it's weakest -- graphics.  AMD has announced four upcoming models, which are already shipping to OEMs and should pop up in netbooks, notebooks, and other form factors by January/February 2011 at the latest.

To recap from our last piece:

The E-xxx processors are parts in the Zacate series, while the C-xxx parts belong to the Ontario series, which is more heavily aimed at ultraportables.  Together these parts collectively belong to the Brazos family.

Prices have not been announced, but AMD is rumored to be targeting the cheaper dual-core D510 part ($63/unit @ 1k) with its E-350.  Costs for a Brazos notebook are estimated by AMD to be well under $500, with rumors that they might be in the sub $400 range, even.

Both models are built on the Bobcat core design, the low power counterpart to AMD's upcoming Bulldozer core.

So does AMD have the performance edge?


When comparing between architectures clock speed and core counts are generally poor judges of performance.  The E-350 is 1.6 GHz, but it is actually slower than the dual-core 1.3 GHz Athlon Neo K325 or a single-core Athlon V120 2.2GHz with a 512KB L2 cache.  But according to Anandtech, AMD's E-350 has cut the average core power draw when active by 40 percent from its previous gen Nile (Athlon V120) platform.

When it comes to the GPU, though, the comparison to the integrated GPUs on AMD's previous platforms -- Nile (Athlon V120) and Danube (Athlon Neo) -- isn't even close.  The Brazos GPU blows away the past competitors.

In a variety of "practical" benchmarks -- compression, photoshop, etc.  the E-350 constantly beats Intel's Atom D510 with Intel integrated graphics.

And in gaming benchmarks it beats Intel's desktop Clarkdale integrated graphics platform in many games, outperforming a Core i5 processor.  Of course, this only applies to GPU-limited titles like Modern Warfare 2 and BioShock.  CPU limited titles like Dragon Age see far worse performance.  Again, this just goes to show that Brazos has one clear strength -- graphics.

The E-350 also blows away Intel's mobile i3 (2.2 GHz) platform, in gaming tests.

What About Ion and VIA?

So up until now the picture looked pretty clear -- the E-350 blows away Intel's similarly priced offering in real world tests.  But what about the new VIA Nano DC or NVIDIA Ion based systems?

Well it turns out both of those outperform the E-350 in CPU-oriented tests.  But in gaming and other GPU-intensive tasks the E-350 holds a slight edge over an Intel SU3200-based Ion system (Celeron dual-core 1.2 GHz), and a larger edge over the VIA system, according to PC Perspective's benchmarks.

Hot Hardware, though, put it up against a D525+Ion system, which blew it away in the CPU limit Quake Wars and earned roughly a draw at the GPU-limited Left 4 Dead.

What We've Learned...

AMD potentially has a winner on their hands, but it all depends on price.  There's plenty of $420 Ion-based notebooks in the 10" category, such as the Eee PC 1015 (Atom N550).  To make headway in the embedded sector, AMD must beat the price of Atom+Ion systems.

If AMD can deliver on rumors of a sub $400 netbook with E-350 onboard, it will definitely be the best value in the netbook market.  If it can deploy a $420 model it will have earned a draw.  And if it's much above that, it will be slightly behind.

If there's one lesson from Brazos it's that Intel should perhaps drop its IGPs and adopt Ion as its integrated GPU solution.  That'd be a bitter pill for Intel to swallow, considering its recent clashes with NVIDIA, but let's face it, Intel's integrated graphics efforts are horrendous.

If there's two lessons, the second would be that in many ways Brazos is a Radeon 4000 series sort of launch for AMD.  It's not going to jump ahead of its strongest competitor (Atom+Ion), but it looks to pull even in performance and hopefully in price.  In the hardware world catching up is always the hardest part, so the future looks bright for AMD and its "Accelerated Processor Units", aka "Fusion processors".

"A politician stumbles over himself... Then they pick it out. They edit it. He runs the clip, and then he makes a funny face, and the whole audience has a Pavlovian response." -- Joe Scarborough on John Stewart over Jim Cramer

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