AMD used to make it very obvious that it had no interest in the market of miniature and low-power computers with limited performance, i.e. netbooks and nettops. Of course, this has not prevented some makers from offering such computers built with AMD components. For example, a compact desktop machine called Zino HD from Dell. However, this trend hasn’t yet become mainstream, and most nettops out there are still based on Intel and Nvidia hardware. Moreover, there are almost no AMD parts in the market that would allow any user to build a mini-ITX nettop on their own.
It isn’t AMD cannot produce CPUs with low heat dissipation that could be used as a basis for computers like that? On the contrary, AMD offers Socket AM3 processors for desktop PCs with a thermal design power of 45, 25 and even 20 watts. In our opinion, CPUs like that could become popular among people who would like to assemble a nettop with their own hands as they offer good performance, especially in comparison with Intel Atom, and are just as good as Intel’s modern LGA775 Celeron series in terms of heat dissipation. It looks like AMD’s power-efficient CPUs for desktop PCs are a good offer that fits perfectly into the free market segment between Intel Atom and Intel Celeron series.
It is a different story with the mainboards. AMD’s belief that their CPUs are no good for compact multimedia PCs has led to the fact that there are nearly no modern Socket AM3 mainboards in the mini-ITX form-factor in the today’s market. It is a shame considering that AMD’s new integrated chipsets such as the AMD 785G and 880G would be optimal for nettops as they feature a rather fast graphics core capable of hardware HD video acceleration, support all modern interfaces, and have modest heat dissipation. So, the only obstacle that a developer of compact Socket AM3 mainboards has to face is the rather large physical size of the CPU socket which should also have a rather large cooler retention mechanism around it. Besides, each chipset from AMD consists of two chips, making designing small PCBs even more complicated.
Fortunately, some developers do not find those difficulties insurmountable. Sapphire’s recent release of a mini-ITX mainboard for the new generation of energy-efficient Socket AM3 processors has become a good stimulus for writing this review. We are going to talk about energy-efficient AMD processors in terms of their suitability for compact and economical computers for home and office.