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AMD's 'Bobcat' to leap out and claw Intel's Atom tomorrow?

Netbook CPU strategy due to be detailed

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Will AMD announce its Atom-smasher this week? It's certainly going to talk about netbook processors tomorrow if it makes good on a past promise, but the company won't necessarily be announcing 'Bobcat', its UMPC-oriented processor.

Back in July, AMD CEO Dirk Meyer said that AMD's initial response to Intel's Atom would be discussed in Q4 at its analysts conference. That event takes place tomorrow.

What will it talk about? Most AMD watchers hope it'll be Bobcat, a chip that was first encountered more than 18 months ago as an alternative to the Celeron M chips Intel was then pitching at UMPC makers.

Since then, the chip giant has rolled out Atom, though it's important to note there are two versions of the processor: 'Diamondville' for netbooks and other Small, Cheap Computers, and a second one, 'Silverthorne', for handheld internet tablets, or MIDs.

It's hard to say which - possibly both - of these roles AMD has in mind for Bobcat, a chip said to contains a single 1GHz 64-bit core, 128KB of L1 cache, 256KB of L2, an 800MHz HyperTransport link and a DDR 2 memory controller. It's set to consume no more than 8W and sit inside an 812-pin 27mm² BGA package.

That's a greater TDP than Intel's 2.5W Diamondville, but less than the combined power draw of the Atom and the 22W northbridge chip it needs to work with, though Intel's chipset includes a graphics core.

So Bobcat's going up against Atom, right? Well, not necessarily. Back in September, AMD roadmapped a set of low-cost single- and dual-core Athlon-based "AMD Ultra-Value Client" processors for release around about now.

The dual-core UVC, the 3250e, will consume up to 22W and run at 1.5GHz. The 2650e is clocked at an Atom-matching 1.6GHz but consumes 15W. Both CPUs have 512KB of L2 cache per core.

The UVC certainly sound like a Diamondville rival, on the desktop at the very least.

Meanwhile, analyst Avi Cohen of Avian Securities recently said he'd heard that AMD was cancelling the Bobcat project, though the chip maker quickly denied this was the case.

Certainly, MIDs have entirely failed to take off in any significant way. However, more basic SCCs are providing popular, with netbooks in particular helping drive up PC sales in Q2 this year.

AMD has remained sceptical, with executives often pooh-poohing the format, though to what extent that was simply because they didn't then have a chip to sell to notebook makers is unclear.

From tomorrow they may have something to sell, though Atom has come to dominate the segment, even displacing existing rivals: HP's newest netbook has an Atom CPU in place of the VIA C7-M its original offering was equipped with.

Yet, Intel has admitted it hasn't produced enough Atoms, to the extent that Acer - whose Aspire One netbook is second only to the Asus Eee PC in popularity - has been said to be looking elsewhere for its next netbook's processor.

Tomorrow, we may well learn if it's an AMD part it has in mind.

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