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AMD Z-60 Tablet APU Launch Preview
Author: James Prior
Editor: Charles Oliver
Date: October 8th, 2012
AMD Z-60 Tablet APU Launch Preview
Today is the embargo lift of information about AMD's new Z-series APU, the Z-60 (codename Hondo), teased by AMD in their recent YouTube video. This replaces the Z-01, AMD's APU for HD Tablets. Like the E-series and C-series, the Z-series is based on the AMD Brazos design and the new Z-60 is no exception, but using the Brazos 2.0 improvements announced in June. The timing of this information release - there's no consumer product announcement - is to prepare for this month's Windows 8 launch and show how AMD's low power tablet platform could be leveraged over the coming months. The big change for the Z platform is power, the 5.9W Z-01 APU power rating drops to 4.5W in the Z-60 and the fusion controller hub gets upgraded to the newer A68M, supporting USB 3.0 and SATA 6.
AMD APU powered tablets aim to put one foot in both the consumption and creation categories, meaning that the aim is to not only read email and documents, watch movies and play simple games but also offer productivity use such as marking up drawings, editing photos or video, and maybe even a little AAA gaming title action as well. The Brazos design cycle introduced the E- and C- series first, followed by the Z-series, so it's natural that the current generation mature designs are based on those platforms and refreshing gradually to the newer options available. Brazos is AMD's biggest selling product, and one that they want to capitalize on by bringing the power down and raising the feature set.
The metrics AMD are looking to manage here are in the always-on resume from sleep category, people don't boot tablets they just return to what they were doing. Soft off and fast resume are the hallmarks and strengths of media tablets, we're used to 2 seconds back to where we were but in the Windows world 5 seconds is considered fast, and we rave about sub 30 second boot times. AMD have a technology branded as Start Now which lets the device resume from sleep in a claimed 2 seconds, a critical metric for Windows tablets to compete with media tablets. AMD are claiming power metrics of 8 hours web browsing and 6 hours of video playback, with nearly 2 weeks sleep time. If true, it might be possible to leave the charger at home or in the car, and tote an AMD Z-series powered tablet with you for the day without worry.
With AMD's x86 Bobcat architecture under the hood, Windows 8 tablets using the Z60 processor will have the familiar feel and operation of your desktop. This is a good thing, user experience consistency counts for a lot as we've seen in people who switch from PC to MAC because they bought an iPhone, and regardless of your thoughts on Windows 8 new UI it'll benefit from being consistent on the go and tethered at the desk. Familiar apps on your tablet will help increase use and how useful you consider the device. The new lower power profile enables the possibilities of thinner, trimmer form factors and AMD claim tablets as thin as 10mm could be possible with the Z-60.
AMD are pushing for 10" and 11" screens with full HD resolution in both slate and convertible form factors. The A68M fusion controller hub offers a lot of options for OEM's, featuring USB 3.0 where USB 2.0 was the only option before, and the choice of SATA 3 6Gbps ports plus an integrated SD card reader. The Z-60 is capable of AMD Steady Video and offers AMD Quick Stream support, too. AMD Quick Stream is a Quality of Experience service that prioritizes internet data streams to make using the device most enjoyable while in use, and is configurable by OEM using XML data files as a customized out of box experience.
The performance of the Z60 should be pretty much identical to the current C60, which is a robust dual core with 1Ghz clock and 80 core GPU branded as Radeon HD 7000 series, in a 9W package. Depending on clock speed selected by the OEM the new Z-60 will be able to match that performance or go a little under, while bringing the power down to about half. Reduced power benefits users in two ways; small, lighter devices with longer battery life, or bigger screens and more powerful wireless options like Bluetooth and high speed Wifi. From the sounds of things, it'll be a combination of both, pushing for bigger, higher resolution screens as well as longer battery life.
The AMD Z-60 APU based tablets will enter a turbulent ecosystem to fight against Microsoft Surface, Surface RT and other OEM tablets using various different processors like the Intel Atom Z-series and NVIDIA Tegra. From the feature positioning it doesn't appear that AMD's platform will be competing with Win 8 RT devices, AMD appear to be pushing for a higher price point giving a lot more features like full HD, larger screens, convertible options, and using their graphics technology prowess to differentiate by having DirectX 11, OpenCL, and video post processing (Picture Perfect HD, Steady Video), but those are area's NVIDIA's Tegra is strong in still, just without the x86 compatibility. The natural question then is 'what's coming and when', and AMD are playing coy on this front. This is to be expected (AMD's partners will put out their own press releases when ready) but also it sounds like the initial offerings won't be a flood but a trickle, with real choices appearing through Q1 '13. We're encouraged by the news there will be some AMD Z-60 powered tablets available at Windows 8 launch, and can't wait to see the innovation and design of convertibles that will follow. We're discouraged that it sounds like AMD will miss getting the Z-60 based designs to market for the holiday sales silly season; it's not clear if the issue lies in availability of parts, timing of design bring up, or apathy from the OEM's. With HP and possibly Dell and others abandoning Win 8 RT you'd think there might be room for a Win 8 AMD convertible from them, or it might be that Microsoft's Surface lock in is saturating the chain for pushing out more tablets and there's no room for AMD, like the ultra portable notebook market.