AMD aims Z-60 APU at Win8 tablets, hybrids

Windows 8 is coming, and it's bringing a wave of tablets and hybrid devices tuned for the touch-friendly Metro UI. AMD doesn't have much of a presence in the tablet world right now; only one system selling in North America is based on the tablet-centric Z-01 APU released last year. However, AMD expects multiple Windows 8 devices to employ its new Z-60 processor, otherwise known as Hondo.

This new chip uses the same architecture as the Z-01. Hondo's CPU is comprised of dual Bobcat cores clocked at 1GHz, each with 512KB of L2 cache, while the memory controller offers a 64-bit path to DDR3 or DDR3L memory clocked at speeds up to 1066MHz.

Naturally, an integrated GPU shares the die with the CPU and memory controller. The Z-60 has the same Radeon HD 6250 graphics as the Z-01, with 80 DirectX 11-class shader ALUs clocked at 275MHz. There's a dedicated Universal Video Decoder block onboard, and AMD says Windows 8's video pipeline makes full use of the available hardware acceleration. The Radeon's display resolution support tops out at 1920x1200, though. The Z-60 won't be able to power 2048x1536 panels like the one in the iPad 3.

Although Hondo uses the same architecture and is produced via the same 40-nm fabrication process as its predecessor, AMD has improved the chip's efficiency by tweaking the power gating. The Z-60 has a 4.5W thermal envelope, down from 5.9W on the Z-01. AMD claims the Z-60 consumes just 1.57W while playing HD video, 1.12W when web browsing, and 0.75W at idle. The firm expects Hondo-based systems to offer "almost" eight hours of web browsing, "up to" six hours of 720p video playback, and about two weeks of standby time.

Unlike Intel's Clover Trail-based Atom Z2760, the Z-60's platform hub resides on a separate chip. This complementary silicon has gone on a crash diet, ditching support for PCIe peripherals and all but one Serial ATA device. However, the platform hub does feature USB 3.0 support. Device makers will be able to choose between offering dual SuperSpeed ports or eight USB 2.0 connections. For tablets and hybrids, I suspect most folks would prefer fewer and faster ports. The ultra-slim systems AMD is targeting really don't have room for loads of expansion ports, anyway.

Hondo's lower power consumption is purported to enable devices as thin as 10 mm, which is only marginally thicker than current ARM-based tablets. AMD expects Hondo-based systems to be available when Window 8 launches at the end of the month, with more to follow as January's Consumer Electronics Show approaches. These devices will run the full version of Windows 8 rather than the RT variant reserved for ARM-based processors.

As someone who has been waffling on whether to buy a Windows 8 hybrid to replace my aging ultraportable notebook, I'm curious to see how Hondo stacks up against Clover Trail. While the tablet-focused Atom should consume less power (its TDP is less than 2W), the Z-60's USB 3.0 support is a nice upgrade, and its integrated Radeon may offer better performance than the PowerVR GPU in Clover Trail.

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