Recently we have come to begin our reviews of AMD products with thoughts about how very precarious the market standing of that company is. This is actually the obvious conclusion from the fact that for a very long time AMD has not had a competitive processor microarchitecture that might be used in a wide range of products designed for all categories of computers. In fact, the scope of the Stars architecture AMD has been using for over the last three years or something has shrunk so much that AMD processors can only be viewed as a really viable alternative to their Intel counterparts when one is choosing a very inexpensive desktop PC.
Fortunately, this article is going to differ from the general trend and be free from the traditional pessimism about AMD. Times are changing and the year of 2011 may be a new period of renaissance for the company. During this year they are expected to overhaul their entire marketing strategy and unveil a plethora of fundamentally new solutions. The basis of the upcoming changes is a new approach according to which the company will be developing not a single all-purpose microarchitecture but a few of them, each with different parameters and each optimized for a specific class of computers.
Intel, on their part, have been following this approach for a long time already. As you know, they offer three basic microarchitectures: the Itanium for servers, the Core for general purpose computers and the Atom for low-power-consumption devices. AMD is going to do the same by offering the Bulldozer microarchitecture for servers and workstations, the Llano microarchitecture for midrange computers, and the Bobcat one for energy-efficient and compact systems.
AMD has taken to the practical implementation of the new strategy from bottom upwards. The Bobcat is the first new microarchitecture to be embodied in silicon, namely in two processor series codenamed Ontario and Zacate. If you throw away all the marketing chaff, you will wind up seeing that these processors are nothing else but a response to Intel’s Atom. The key feature of both the Ontario and the Zacate is that they are highly integrated and rather fast processors with low power consumption. In other words, they are going to be AMD’s somewhat belated, yet still important, step towards the now-fashionable netbooks and nettops and, later on, tablet PCs.
In this review we will be talking about what is called Brazos, the typical nettop platform as envisioned by AMD. AMD’s vision is quite conventional, though. Like same-class solutions from Intel, AMD and its mainboard-making partners are proposing mini-ITX products for nettops: a mini-ITX mainboard with an integrated processor and various onboard controllers that make it unnecessary to install add-in cards. Like Intel’s Atoms, the Zacate processor contains an integrated graphics core, thus making the AMD Brazos a complete all-in-one computing platform.
Traditionally for AMD, a rather high-performance integrated graphics core is a strong point in favor of AMD’s solution. Zacate-based mini-ITX mainboards are going to be far more appealing than Intel’s platform whose graphics subsystem cannot even play HD video. But it is not so easy to tell how the Brazos is going to compare with the popular ION platform that combines Intel’s energy-efficient Atom processor with high-performance graphics from Nvidia. We will try to answer this question in this review.