Jun 17, 2010

HP, AMD find their MUSE with thin notebooks

Video HP AMD's from Youtube

HP emphasised compelling designs and colours, but also its expanded use of AMD processors in its back-to-school laptop lineup this week.

Ultra-thin laptop concepts pushed by AMD could literally be the shape of things to come, with netbooks suffering a setback in the first quarter and Intel taking another shot at this higher-end category.

HP unveiled its broadest selection and largest single introduction of AMD-powered laptops this week, with 14 notebooks introduced under AMD's Vision and Vision Pro brands.

Chris Cloran, general manager of AMD's Client division, told me AMD's platform for ultra-thin laptops is now in its third generation since the concept and first model was introduced with HP in January 2009.

"They're between netbooks and notebooks, sexy and thin but with the full PC experience" is his definition.

MacBook Air-like but cheaper, ultra-thin or "thin and light" has been AMD's strategic answer to the success of netbooks, where it does not have a product to compare with Intel's Atom processor.

Both battery life and performance have been increased this time around and Mr Cloran said the growing integration of AMD's processors with graphics chips from its ATI acquision was "changing the experience" for users, right down to web pages with graphics loading much faster. HP says AMD's chips in its new dm3 model are giving 7 hours of battery life.

AMD does seem more competitive with its bigger rival on both performance and price and is expected to announce next week that its chips will be available on 109 laptop models this summer compared to 40 a year ago, according to a Reuters repot. An AMD version of HP's Pavilion dv6 laptop will cost $530, compared to $650 for an Intel Version.

Intel is also paying more attention to ultra-thin. At a briefing this week, it announced less powerful versions of its Core i3 and i5 processors would be aimed at the market.

Analysts refer to this segment as CULV-Consumer Ultra-Low Voltage notebooks. In a report this week, the iSuppli research firm predicted 14.5m CULV notebooks would ship this year, up 93 per cent on 2009. That compares to only 30 per cent growt for netbooks, except netbooks are a more mature segment and forecasts are for a much larger 34.5m units to be shipped.

Intel reported a 19 per cent fall in netbook chips shipped in the first quarter compared to the fourth, but blamed this on inventories being cleared after the holiday season. However, the netbook category is under pressure from not just CULVs but smartbooks and tablets-notably the iPad, with Morgan Stanley reporting only 5 per cent growth rates for netbooks year-on-year in April.

The other major trend, judging by HP's new lineup, is the degree of effort going into design and looks.

"it's kind of shock and awe, everything in the lineup is new," Stacy Wolf, head of HP notebook design, told me.

He talked about a MUSE strategy focused on Materials, Usability, the Sensory appeal of products and the overall Experience of the user interface, packaging and use of the product.

The design and feature sets brought in with its Envy 13 and 15 high-end models are filtering down to the mainstream Pavilion consumer laptops with, among the features, aluminium cladding, backlit keyboards, a larger touchpad, clean lines, chemically etched designs,
textured finishes, slot-loading DVD players and a range of colours and matching wallpapers and accessories, from a champagne colour on the dv6 [pictured at top] to Sonoma Red on the dv5 and "preppy pink" on the Mini 210 netbook.

Prices range from $1400 for the Envy 17, with its 17.3-inch screen to $280 for a new version of the HP Mini 110 netbook.

By Chris Nuttall, http://m.ft.com

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