Advanced Micro Devices (NASDAQ:AMD) recently unveiled updates to its low-power APUs, with Beema designed for notebooks and Mullins targeting tablets. AMD has made essentially no progress in the tablet market so far, and it HAS been bleeding low-end notebook market share to Intel (NASDAQ:INTC), so there's quite a bit riding on these new products. HP has just announced the first notebook using one of these new chips, the $250 Pavilion 10z Touch Laptop powered by a Mullins chip, and while the price is certainly right, undercutting many Intel-powered low-end notebooks, an abysmal battery life raises questions about the competitiveness of AMD's new chips.
The numbers don't add up
AMD's Mullins outperforms Intel's Bay Trail at the high-end, according to benchmarks done by Tom's Hardware, but what isn't clear at this point is how much power Mullins uses. So far, the only benchmarks done were using a reference tablet supplied by AMD, and information regarding power consumption was noticeably absent.
The HP laptop powered by Mullins is currently shipping, so more detailed benchmarks will come soon enough. However, HP states that the battery life of the device is only up to 4 hours, which seems outrageously low considering the specs. The Mullins chip used is actually a dual-core variant, so it should be about as low-power as it gets.
A weak battery chosen by HP is partially to blame, along with the use of a mechanical hard drive instead of a solid state drive. Both of these decisions were probably meant to drive the cost down, but settling on a four-hour battery life for what is supposed to be an ultraportable 10-inch laptop doesn't make much sense.
What this means for AMD
Devices powered by Intel's Bay Trail seem to do far better in the battery life department. The Asus Transformer Book T100, a detachable 2-in-1 launched last year, uses a processor that was bested in terms of raw performance by the highest-end Mullins chip, but it manages 11 hours of battery life, according to Asus. And as an owner of the device, I can confirm that a battery life of around 10 hours is about right. It has a larger battery compared to the Mullins laptop, 31 Whr compared to 24 Whr, but that alone doesn't account for the vast difference in battery life between the two.
This HP laptop is the first device to feature an AMD Mullins processor, and even though the price is extremely low, the awful battery life makes it a tough sell. If this is the best that AMD can do, then Intel doesn't have much to worry about. Even Chromebooks, many of which are cheaper than this HP laptop and powered by Intel chips, have far longer battery lives.
Intel revealed during its latest earnings conference call that Bay Trail chips now represent 20% of its notebook mix. With AMD reporting a 20% year-over-year decline in its computing solutions segment during the second quarter, and with the PC market essentially flat during that time, it's clear that Intel is stealing away low-end PC market share from AMD at a breakneck pace. This Mullins-powered laptop certainly won't reverse this trend, and that spells continued trouble for AMD's core business.
If the HP laptop's poor battery life turns out to be a trend instead of an outlier for AMD's new chips, competing against Intel in the low-end PC market will be next to impossible for AMD. Competing in tablets will be even more difficult, especially with Intel subsidizing its tablet chips, and Intel's upcoming move to 14nm will give the company an even bigger advantage when it comes to energy efficiency. The raw performance of AMD's Mullins is impressive, but battery life is equally important in mobile devices, and so far it appears that Mullins falls flat. That's bad news for AMD's PC business.
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