The technology arms race between AMD and Intel has been one of the defining aspects of the technology market for years. As the two biggest producers of the CPU – the ‘brain’ of every PC – their competition has ramifications far beyond their own companies. With stories ranging from game-changing platform alliances with vendors to accusations of anti-competitiveness, it has also been one of the most headline grabbing issues of the past couple of decades – while internet debate by fans of both camps sometimes rivals the Microsoft versus Apple rows in their ferocity.
Both firms were constantly reaching for the next incrementally faster product, and it could be argued this rivalry is one of the biggest reasons PCs have up until recently been sold with the emphasis very much on specifications and incremental performance increases, rather than on style and user experience.
However that is starting to change now. One of the biggest lessons to be learned from the rise of netbooks and Apple products is how simplifying technology and removing geek-speak can do wonders for sales. Tablets like the iPad aren’t particularly sold on specifications. They are sold on convenience, style, and something a bit cooler than clock speeds.
AMD is looking to do a similar thing for other aspects of the PC industry with Vision. Essentially, the concept puts all the detailed specs of a computer into the background, and just labels a PC as Vision (basic), Premium, Ultimate, or Black, depending on the machine’s capabilities. It’s shedding the geekspeak which many see as a put-off to mainstream consumers.
“If you look at what consumers care about today, it’s different to what they cared about 20 years ago,” says Sasa Marinkovic head of EMEA product and field marketing.
“How we marketed in the past was to talk about the technology and the performance, but if you look at how consumers are buying today, it’s more about experience and design. So we sat down and we thought about how we could approach the consumer, and talk to them in a way they want the information delivered to them, in a way they understand, and make them interested in what a technology company has to say to them.
“We made Vision to enable OEMs to sell their products more easily. But also further down the chain to the retail store, it makes it easier for them to explain what our story is, and why Vision is a good solution for them. It’s easy to sell because it’s easily understood. Consumers buy a PC based on what they want to do with it, and not what frequency the processor is on their laptop.”
SIMPLIFYING THE BRAND
It certainly makes sense that if you’re trying to increase sales to those that may not be technically minded, you’re not going to win them over by listing motherboard bus speeds and frequency output of the central processing unit, which is how the industry is currently geared up to sell hardware. Marinkovic says the information given to customers is currently too complicated.
“For anybody that is not immediately involved in this industry, I would say people would be hard pressed to say if a quad core with a certain level of graphics is better than a dual core with a different level of graphics. It has put an additional educational burden on the consumer. They shouldn’t have to go and learn to the point where they need a degree in order to make decision when they are buying a notebook. We are doing the legwork for them – keeping all the technical specifications in the background, and putting these different tiers to the forefront.”
Meanwhile, AMD has also recently launched its Fusion programme, or ‘APUs’ (accelerated processing units). This next generation essentially combines the functionality of the graphics processor unit and the central processing unit in to a single processor package with separate clocks. It’s a programme AMD are investing a lot in, and it’s an example of how the firm is trying to distance itself from a commoditised arms race with Intel.
“The first race in the industry was about the frequency,” adds Marinkovic. “If you remember ten years ago it was Intel and AMD fighting over who was going to get to 1GHz first. We got to that point first, then it went on to who had the most cores. But I think everyone is realising now the limitation of those approaches. There’s really a lot of performance that can be squeezed out and utilised by the GPU. The CPU is a serial device, and the GPU is parallel. Only when you pair the two do you get the best result in most applications. That’s called heterogeneous computing, and I firmly believe that is the way to go.”
Ever since AMD bought graphics specialist ATI in October 2006, industry watchers have been speculating on the ultimate collaboration form the two. It’s Fusion that seems to be the ultimate culmination of this buyout, and with it AMD believes it’s in the best place to lead in the area of APUs.
“This is the work of both companies coming together as one and collaborating on delivering this experience. It does go along with our strategy of how we deliver our experience to users,” claims Marinkovic. “If you look at Vision’s tiers – basic, premium and ultimate – and the capabilities that you’re going to see for the end users is again high definition videos, online gaming, emailing, media – all of that can be delivered in a very elegant way through the APUs.”
In their own ways, both programmes are looking at changing the way computers are sold and perceived. If they’re right, then the rest of the industry could look to changing in a similar way.
Marinkovic concludes: “I think we have the right strategy in Vision and we are moving along in the right way – Vision and APUs are the way to go.”