At Computex 2014, Advanced Micro Devices (NYSE: AMD ) launched a mobile APU platform known as Kaveri for notebooks. Some will argue that this move significantly improves the company’s competitive position; others, including yours truly, believe it won’t fundamentally change Advanced Micro Devices’ competitive position in the upper tiers of the notebook market. While the ultimate impact of that new product is still up in the air, the company’s latest tablet and convertible product — known as Mullins — remains the one to watch.
What’s the deal with Mullins?
Mullins is a low-power chip targeted toward convertible and tablet products, particularly those running Microsoft‘s (NASDAQ: MSFT ) Windows 8.1. The company demonstrated the part in a reference design known as the “Discovery Tablet,” and reviewers who had some hands-on time with the design came away impressed with the performance of the device. In benchmark scores, it compared favorably to Intel‘s (NASDAQ: INTC ) Bay Trail-T, which powers most Windows tablets available today.
However, there two concerns took a bit of the shine off of the otherwise impressive results. The first is simply that while the performance looks good, the device that the chip was in was fairly large and bulky — much larger than what most people expect from a tablet. The next is that not a single hardware partner has announced design wins for Mullins, even though AMD and its partners could have done so at AMD’s recent APU14 conference and again at Computex (for a more detailed take on the design win situation, see Sam Reynolds’ excellent write-up over at VR-Zone).
Why does this even matter?
One could argue that AMD doesn’t really need a presence in tablets — after all, it’s a crowded, cutthroat market. But if you consider the fact that the tablet market is growing rapidly while the traditional PC market is down, AMD probably needs some sort of meaningful presence in the tablet space. Furthermore, if convertible Windows tablet/PC-type devices can gain significant traction (winning back consumer wallet share from traditional tablets), the company would be well positioned if it had a competitive product since only AMD and Intel can provide solutions compatible with full Windows 8.1.
While Windows isn’t guaranteed to succeed in grabbing back share from Android or iOS, Microsoft’s aggressive action in making Windows 8.1 free for devices with screen sizes below 9 inches at least opens the door. Intel is being assertive here, going so far as to provide cost-reduced parts for $100 Windows tablets. Still, with a competitive product (on both performance and cost), AMD could grab some nontrivial volume here too and help stabilize its computing solutions group. This is why the company’s Mullins is important and why I’m keenly watching for potential design wins here.
Foolish bottom line
There is no question that Mullins is much more competitive than the prior-generation Hondo and Temash chips that AMD tried to push into the Windows tablet market. That said, the competitiveness of the platform in more power constrained and smaller form factors, as well as the cost of the surrounding bill of materials, remains to be seen. While the platform has yet to appear in any announced designs, keep an eye out for design wins during the year.
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