AMD is going all-in on the PC tablet and hybrid market, predicting that within a few years notebooks with screens that pop off to become tablets will make up as much as 50 percent of the PC market. In order to power this next-generation of low-power Windows 8 devices, the company is releasing its next-generation of dual- and quad-core mobile processors, codenamed “Temash,” later this year. Here at Mobile World Congress 2013, we had a chance to see some really sleek new reference designs based on Temash running demanding tasks at full 1080p.
Temash is designed to compete directly with Intel’s low-power Atom chips, which now appear in a slew of Windows 8 tablets and hybrids from the ASUS VivoTab Smart to the HP Envy X2 and ThinkPad Tablet 2. The current generation of Atom only supports a paltry 1366 x 768-pixel resolution, and the systems we’ve tested with it haven’t been capable of serious graphics work or gaming of any kind.
Users today who want strong performance from a Windows tablet must opt for expensive, heavy Core i5-powered systems with mediocre battery life like the $899 Microsoft Surface Pro or $1,199 Samsung ATIV Smart PC. According to AMD, Temash-based systems will provide 8 to 10 hours of Web surfing and 6 hours of HD video on a charge while providing enough computing power to be your everyday primary PC at a much lower cost. By the end of the year, AMD’s Steve Belt predicted that we’ll see Temash-powered Hybrids selling for $599 or less. The platform will also be used in standalone tablets and 11- to 13-inch ultraportable notebooks.
At the company’s booth, AMD Product Marketing Manager Chris Sutphen showed us a series of compelling reference designs based on Temash and built by major ODMs such as Compal and Wistron, each running a different performance demo. The first system he showed us was a Compal reference design hybrid with a quad-core Temash chip that was meant to demonstrate Temash’s multitasking proess running 1080p, an e-reading app and an MP3 player all at the same time.
He then showed us an Inventec reference tablet that looked quite a bit like the Microsoft Surface, complete with a metal kickstand and a type cover with thin keys that offered a low level of travel. However, the colors of the casing and the keyboard were completely different. The Inventec slate, which featured a dual-core Temash chip, was running productivity apps on its screen while outputting smooth 1080p video to a TV.
Sutphen then showed us one of his favorite designs: a Wistron NTA10 reference tablet with a keyboard cover that folds around the entire device, including its back, to turn into a soft case. We particularly liked the case/cover’s rich yellow color, soft texture and responsive, soft-touch island-style keys. This is one of the few tablet keyboards we’ve seen that actually had a generously-sized touchpad and a real palmrest for supporting your wrists.
The Wistron NTA10, which ran on a quad-core Temash, was running a demo of “Torchlight II” that Stuphen briefly played to show us how smooth the motion was. In a white box sitting next to the Wistron was an unnamed Atom Z2760 machine playing the same game at slideshow like speeds. Of course, that system was running the demo in a loop and we were not able to see how it was configured to verify that it would perform this poorly in real life.
He also showed us a dual-core Temash-powered Quanta tablet that didn’t have a particularly compelling design, but was capable of running Windows 8 smoothly and playing back 1080p video.
One of AMD Temash’s new features is Turbo Dock, which allows hybrid devices to offer better performance when attached to their keyboard docks. Because the keyboard docks provide better cooling, the CPU can boost its clockspeed to higher frequencies. To show Turbo Dock in action, Sutphen showed us the same Compal reference design hybrid running Internet Explorer’s fishbowl demo, which fills a graphical fishbowl with as many fish as possible while trying to achieve a 60 fps frame rate. With the dock attached, the demo was able to show 120 fish at once, but once he detached the tablet that rate dropped to a still-strong 90 fish.
This 13-inch Compal prototype was our favorite design at the AMD booth because of its sleek white design, large comfortable keyboard and mechanical docking system. After Sutphen swiped an unlock slider on-screen, the notebook made a pleasant whirring noise as it released the screen. When he put the screen back in, the mechanism moved its hooks back to hold the screen securely in place.
AMD also provides a number of software packages that OEMs can bundle with Temash devices at no additional cost. Dubbed AMD Elite Experiences, these applications leverage the platform’s hardware to provide some additional features to the user. Sutphen showed us a few of these Experiences. AMD Screen Mirror allows users to wirelessly stream video content to any other computer on the network via DLNA. AMD Face Login, which does what its name implies, quickly recognized his face and unlocked a demo computer for him. Using AMD Gesture Controls, he was able to swipe through a photo album and control a music player just by waving his hands in front of a notebook’s webcam.
Finally, Sutphen showed us how an AMD-optimized version of the Bluestacks Android player for Windows. Using Bluestacks, he was able to open and run Android apps in a window on a Windows 8 tablet. He said that, in some cases, performance on these apps is better than on native Android devices. Having the opportunity to run Android apps makes Windows 8 tablets that much more compelling because they can offer the best of both worlds. If one can get a 1080p Temash tablet for around the same price as a high-end Android tablet ($400 to $500), this ability could be a big selling point.