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Parts and positioning
After speaking with the folks at AMD, and after tinkering with a Zacate rig myself, I believe the best way to think about Brazos isn't so much as an Atom competitor, but as a successor to AMD's existing Nile ultraportable platform. AMD just had a slightly different set of priorities this time around. CPU performance has gone down a little bit, giving way to greater graphics horsepower and overall power efficiency.

Brazos has double the graphics ALUs of Nile's IGP, and AMD quotes a 10-50% improvement in raw graphics performance. Nile already had fairly decent gaming chops considering its low-power credentials, so that ain't nothing to sneeze at. On the power efficiency front, Brazos trims platform TDP from 25W to 21W, with active core power draw tumbling from 10.8W on average to just 6.5W. Consequently, AMD expects to see battery life spiral up to 8.5-9 hours for Zacate laptops with 55Wh batteries. Ontario netbooks will purportedly reach a stratospheric 10.5 hours. Those are official estimates, of course. AMD quoted roughly eight hours of run time for Nile earlier this year, but we got just under five hours of web browsing out of our first Nile notebook using a 61Wh battery.

In any case, AMD will have four Brazos offerings ready for launch. Two Zacate-based models will make up the E series, while two Ontario APUs will materialize as C-series parts. All four chips will support DDR3-1066 memory speeds and feature 512KB of L2 cache per core, UVD3 video decoding logic, and hardware virtualization capabilities.

Processor CPU cores CPU clock GPU ALUs GPU clock TDP
AMD E-350 with Radeon HD 6310 graphics 2 1.6 GHz 80 500 MHz 18W
AMD E-240 with Radeon HD 6310 graphics 1 1.5 GHz 80 500 MHz 18W
AMD C-50 with Radeon HD 6250 graphics 2 1.0 GHz 80 280 MHz 9W
AMD C-30 with Radeon HD 6250 graphics 1 1.2 GHz 80 280 MHz 9W

AMD is targeting the E-350 and E-240 specifically at nettops and ultraportable notebooks with list prices in the $399-449 range. The C-50 and C-30 will populate cheaper, lower-specced systems, which some might be tempted to call netbooks. I doubt we'll see Ontario sparring with Pineview Atoms in $250, 10-inch machines, though, if only because of the product positioning chart AMD showed me:

See how the Atom is at the bottom of the pack, shoved under the C-series offerings? That pretty much says it all. Admittedly, AMD said this slide reflects its aim on the pricing front, not performance. I wouldn't necessarily expect APUs like the C-30 to run circles around the Atom N450 in raw CPU performance benchmarks, but AMD will surely have a leg up on the graphics and video decoding side of things. That could justify a small price premium over your typical netbook.

Incidentally, sharp-eyed readers might have noticed the new HD Internet badge in the slide above. AMD says this label signals that Ontario is suitable for "HD Internet browsing," watching "HD videos online," and tasks like "email, chat and social networking." Meanwhile, the plain Vision umbrella, which Zacate falls under, means users can "run mainstream software applications," enjoy "fast HD Internet browsing" and "casual games," and watch "DVDs and online HD videos." I suppose Ontario laptops will catch on fire if you try to plug-in a DVD drive or play Bejeweled, then.

Performance impressions
The question on everyone's lips must now be: how does Brazos fare against the competition from Intel? Some folks might also be wondering how it compares to Nile, its most direct predecessor. As I said earlier, AMD has slapped a momentary embargo on benchmark numbers obtained last week, but it doesn't mind us discussing performance in more general terms, without raw numbers.

So, that's exactly what I'm going to do.

Let's first tackle the elephant in the room. Yes, Zacate gives Intel's Atom processors a whupping—even the dual-core N550. In the CPU performance tests we ran, the AMD E-350 test rig didn't stray too far from either our Nile-based Toshiba Satellite T235D notebook or Zotac's Zbox HD-ND22, which contains a Celeron SU2300. AMD did have the test rig set up with a 128GB Crucial RealSSD C300, so applications loaded quicker than they would have on a real consumer ultraportable, but the E-350 system still felt pleasantly snappy in web surfing and other, non-storage-bound tasks. That tracks pretty well with AMD's goal of delivering "good enough" CPU performance.

What about the graphics side of things? I won't spoil the numbers here, but I will say that, when AMD talks of Brazos beating Nile's graphics performance by up to 50%, it's not singling out a best-case scenario. I wouldn't recommend making a Brazos laptop your primary gaming rig, of course—integrated graphics are what they are—but I think it's fair to say this platform sets a new high-water mark for mobile AMD IGPs. And thanks to UVD3, high-definition video playback isn't a problem. All of a sudden, the future of Atom-based netbooks with next-gen Nvidia Ion graphics is looking grim. Very grim.

More detailed analysis will have to wait for our performance article with the full results, but in broad terms, I was impressed by what Brazos had to offer. Not only is it an engineering achievement in itself, being the first AMD processor to feature the Bobcat microarchitecture, the first AMD processor to feature an integrated GPU on the same die as the CPU, and the first AMD processor based on TSMC's 40-nm bulk silicon fab process. But it also packs quite a punch, delivering solid CPU performance and great graphics performance for its segment.

The only remaining mystery—for me, at least, since you folks still haven't seen the benchmark data—is battery life. Considering Brazos' spartan power requirements, AMD might just be able to turn the tables and offer longer run times than Intel CULV systems. That would be a really big deal. However, AMD did make bold claims about Nile's battery life without completely delivering, so I'll reserve judgment on that point until we get our hands on our first Brazos notebook.

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