Intel Atom vs AMD Brazos - Lord of the Netbooks

Lord of the Netbooks: Intel vs AMD

Lord of the Netbooks: Intel vs AMD

Intel's dominance in the netbook category has been established for quite a while now and it's no secret they helped to create the category in the first place with their Intel Atom platform. These power efficient x86 architecture based chips helped make 10-inch and smaller devices possible to have a battery life of four hours or more of intensive usage. These chips came in various configurations and TDP (Thermal Design Power) of sub-1W to 13W to cater to hand-held devices like MIDs or UMPCs, all the way to netbooks and nettops.

These Intel Atom chips where moving towards a System-on-Chip (SOC) design, combining the memory controller and GPU together with the 45nm CPU die. This gives the platform better power efficiency as Intel has not just squeezed in more processing blocks, but also added tighter power management controls across different functional units on the processor. This meant netbooks can continue to enjoy longer battery life (or the same amount with a smaller, lighter battery). So far, the Atom platform for netbooks and nettops has proven irresistible to manufacturers as it was the only viable platform, especially when compared against AMD's Congo (which was more for thin and light notebooks, though manufacturers did try squeezing them into netbook sizes).

AMD is now back in the game however, and their Brazos (Fusion) platform looks more than capable of dethroning Intel's Atom in the netbook category. It features a 40nm processor and comes with a more powerful on-die GPU with DirectX11 support. It is supposedly more power efficient too, but we'll find out if this is true over in the next few pages.

How we're going to do that is quite a simple matter really. Toshiba has two 10-inch netbooks of similar make, their NB500 series, and these netbooks come in both Intel and AMD flavors. The Toshiba NB520 uses Intel's latest dual-core Atom N550 (1.5GHz), while the Toshiba NB550D uses AMD's dual-core Ontario C-50 processor (1.0GHz), clocked slower, but with a more robust AMD Radeon HD 6250 graphics unit supporting the DX11 standard (so more advanced games and applications would benefit). For details of their specifications, here's a comparison page.

Similar on the outside, but very different on the insides. The AMD machine is on the left (Toshiba NB550D), while the Intel version is on the right (Toshiba NB520).