AMD: Let's Underclock!

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AMD is launching some new “energy efficient” CPUs.

 

This is a much buzzier synonym for “underclocked” CPUs, which is what these chips actually are. 

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: Good tactic, bad strategy.

Maybe the best way to explain why is to look at cars rather than computers.  With high gasoline prices, people want more fuel-efficient cars.  If you’re a car manufacturer, what do you do? 

You can make a long and continuing effort to make a car use less and less gas, like Toyota is doing with the Prius.  Your first try or two might not be miraculous, but you keep plugging away at it until it is.  Or you just take a regular engine and throttle it down to lower levels of performance, or redo the engine by just lopping off a few cylinders.  Intel is taking the first approach with Atom; AMD is taking the second. 

Which is the better approach?

In the short term, it’s quite possible most people would prefer a car taking the second approach.  The engine is likely to be more powerful, and if it isn’t as fuel-efficient, well, many people may not be that concerned about fuel efficiency.  So it may be perfectly reasonable for someone to build sometime soon an HTPC box around an underclocked X2 rather than an Atom or maybe even an underclocked C2D (especially if the mobo is more suitable for such a task than the Intel offerings).

However, in the long-run, who is more likely to win out in the energy-efficiency race, the one putting in the time, effort and money to develop something truly energy-efficient, or the one that isn’t?  You may say, “AMD can’t be all things to all people right now,” but if TinyCPUs are the future of PCing, where does that leave AMD in a few years?

The problem isn’t the current product, but the strategy (actually lack of one) for the future.  These CPUs are a stunt.  Might be a really good stunt for some people in some situations, but a stunt is not a strategy. 

AMD has a bad habit of stunting.  Integrated memory controllers are a good example of this.  AMD put an IMC into Hammer and got a big boost from it.  They weren’t wrong to do that, what was wrong was that that was the only major improvement they planned on making.  So they sat back and relaxed while Intel made a ton of little improvements, then went to the IMC for Nehalem.   

Why do they do that?  When you have few bucks, you go for the biggest bang you can get for the bucks you have.  Unfortunately, that strategy doesn’t work too well when your competitor has a lot more bucks.  The problem isn’t the strategy, the problem is the lack of bucks. 

Ed

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