Meet AMD’s new tablet APU: The Z-60 delivers Radeon graphics for Windows 8 touch

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ARM chips may dominate the tablet space, but AMD will not be daunted. On Tuesday the company announced a new Accelerated Processing Unit (APU) aimed at Windows 8 tablets and other mobile devices that need to sip power in the service of longer battery life.

Just one problem, though: On paper, it doesn't look like AMD's power conservation will beat Intel's.

The new Z-60 APU, AMD’s second stab at the tablet market, is a clear step up from the company’s previous Z-01 APU. The Z-01 saw relatively little traction in an x86 tablet market dominated by Intel’s Atom platform. However, that market was also dwarfed by the vast array of ARM devices running either iOS or Android.

Of course, Microsoft’s imminent announcement of Windows 8 adds a new twist to AMD’s mobile aspirations, with a plethora of new tablets or tablet-like convertible systems arriving, including many based on Intel’s new Z2760 Atom, a.k.a., Clover Trail. AMD would clearly like to get in on the Windows 8 tablet action, and hopes the Z60 will be just the catalyst for a few key design wins.

Like Clover Trail, the Z-60 is a dual-core solution, and improves on AMD’s earlier effort by increasing clock frequency from the Z-01’s 276MHz to a more robust 1GHz. That contrasts with Atom’s top clock frequency of 1.8GHz, but remember, clock frequency rarely scales with real-world performance. More interesting is the inclusion of AMD Radeon class graphics technology, offering 80 GPU cores. That’s likely to outpace Intel on the graphics front. And while the Z-60’s 3D performance is likely to be better than Atom’s, AMD is also claiming better image quality and performance for high-definition video.

What’s troubling, though, is the power spec of the Z-60. All this graphics goodness comes at a price: The Z-60’s rated power is 4.5W, somewhat higher than Intel’s claimed 1.7W for the Atom Z2760. What that could mean for Intel is either longer battery life than an equivalent AMD-based unit, or lighter weight battery packaging for the same amount of battery life.

In essence: Customers will have to choose between possibly better graphics or longer battery life.

The other problem for AMD is that it’s late to the x86 tablet party. While Intel-based designs are already being shown and shipped, AMD stated that products based on the Z-60 won’t launch until the end of the year. Given the importance of the holiday season, it’s unclear how much impact AMD’s Z-60 will actually have on the overall tablet product mix.

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