Acer Aspire S3 Ultrabooks Hit Stores, We Produce an Unboxing Video

 

ACER Aspire S3 Ultrabook side on

ACER Aspire S3 Ultrabook only 13mm thick very impressive.

After all the hype, the teasing, and the anticipation, the first Ultrabooks have arrived in store, and it’s Acer that have scored the launch coup once again with their Aspire S3 Ultrabook debuting before any other supplier.

Acer are starting to make this a habit, being the first to introduce Honeycomb 10 inch tablets into retail, and then the first 7 inch tablets with the Honeycomb operating system.

The first model to land is the entry model, which has a retail price of $1,199 and comes with an Intel Core i3 processor, a 320GB hard drive and a 20GB SSD for OS and caching, which helps it achieve the fast wake up that Ultrabooks have so spectacularly demonstrated. Three more models are expected shortly – an i5 with hard drive/SSD combo like the i3, and two SSD-only models in i5 and i7 configurations.

Intel will be very happy to see these finally make the light of day, as this form factor and performance benchmark is expected to make a large contribution to their mix of products over the coming months, and with good reason. These Ultrabooks place more emphasis on design and user-focused appeal than on pure specification-driven models, and present themselves in sleek, thin packages that are very pleasing on the eye.

More brands are expected to release their own offers soon, but in the meantime feast your eyes on this unboxing video that we’ve produced for Bing Lee.

 

Will you be heading in to see an Ultrabook in the flesh for yourself? Feel free to leave your personal impressions below.

Asus UX31 Ultrabook: First Look

Intel’s new line up of low voltage Core Processors have given rise to a new generation of notebooks, which will start to see the light of day from this October onwards. I’ve had an opportunity to have some hands-on time with an upcoming model from Asus, who have been displaying a fair bit of innovation in the tablet area and look set to continue that trend with this new range.

New breed... the UX31 Ultrabook.

“Thin and light” is the war cry for Ultrabooks, and the Asus UX31, one of the new breed of mobile PCs about to be unleashed to an unsuspecting public, can add “metallic” to that anthem. This is a very industrial-looking piece of tech, from its brushed metal lid to its ultra-thin wedged front and rather sharp corners.

No fingerprints... The UX31 doesn't attract marks and dust like some glossy finishes.

The Asus UX31 was handed to me in a smart looking leather envelope, which seemed incomprehensible to be carrying a notebook of any sort. The envelope itself has a magnet embedded in both the body and fold-over, keeping the package well protected until the dramatic opening, revealing an extremely thin metal Ultrabook.

The Asus Ultrabook travels in style.

The leather slip case was light with the Ultrabook inside, and the UX31 feels as if it should be a little heavier given the physical materials it is wrapped in. The unit is only 1.1kg, extremely light for a notebook of this size, and you really notice its lack of weight when it’s open and operating in the palm of one hand.

Classy...Low tech leather and high tech metal metal make a great combination

The front edge is so thin – 3mm – that Asus have smartly added a small protruding lip at the centre of the lid for easy opening. The unit then increases in thickness to its rear, reaching only 17mm at its peak – still very thin.

Thin profile... the UX31 in side profile showing USB and SD card slot.

From standby, the UX31 bounces into life in a blink, and the bright 13.3” screen displays a 1600 x 900 resolution, higher than some larger screen counterparts. The expected array of status LED is missing, with only tiny white LEDs embedded in the caps lock, Wi-Fi function key and in the power key, which has been integrated into the keyboard layout.

Sparseness is the theme for this Ultrabook, with a small but useful amount of connections. On the left hand side there is the SD/MMC card slot, headphone jack and USB 2.0 port. On the right hand side are all the new-tech connections: Micro HDMI, Mini Displayport and USB 3.0 plus the small power socket.

Digital and high speed connections are welcome on the UX31.

As more components become compressed into smaller and thinner form factors, issues like heating need innovative solutions. Asus have placed its ventilation at the back of the keyboard, just below the screen. The use of the low voltage Core i7 quad core processor and SSD storage also assists in keeping heat down.

Vents at the back of the keyboard help minimise heat.

Video playback was smooth and non-jittery, and it seemed to be able to handle high bit rate content very well. The sound element was interesting – what it lacked in depth, the UX31 made up in stereo separation. Effects and musical instruments were very discernible and seemed to be coming from more than two directions.

Brushed aluminuim and island keys with a full size touchpad. The speakers are positioned between the keyboard and the screen.

For those that have never heard the term “unibody” before, the UX31 is a good example of unibody design and construction. The Asus Ultrabook uses single sheets of material, in this case aluminium, to form a minimalist, almost hollowed-out appearance to ensure a rigid casework. Rigidity and stiffness are more important than ever, with evermore streamlined and sleek designs produced due to the nature of Intel’s Ultrabook criteria. With the advent of Ultrabooks, unibody designs will become much more prevalent in the coming months.

The undercarriage of the UX31... a great unibody execution.

After spending a few hours with the UX31, it’s funny how quickly you get used to the form factor – my trusty notebook that I’m writing this article on looks and feels positively chunky after handling the Ultrabook.

Consider for a moment the advances that had to occur to get us to a point where a product like the Asus Ultrabook could be produced – high speed transfer via USB, reliable solid state drives, low voltage processors, lightweight casework materials, and overhauled cooling designs. Traditional PC makers can be that little less traditional and a bit more edgy with these new products that are as much about lifestyle and self-image as they are about performance and design.

This is one technology bump I can see catching on.

Acer Aspire S3 Ultrabook – First Look

The age of the Ultrabooks is upon us, and we have the first example of this new category of mobile PC from Acer. At today’s launch, we had a hands-on look at this very thin and impressively light model nicknamed the Aspire S3, and known as the AS3951 through Acer’s formal naming convention.

 

The model that we had an opportunity to get intimate with had an Intel Core i7 low voltage processor, clocked at 1.7GHz with a Turbo boost of 2.8GHz. This particular machine had 4GB of RAM with a 240GB solid state drive.

 

The “thin and light” aspect of the Acer Ultrabook definitely lived up to expectations – only 1.3cm thick, and 1.4kg in weight. When not in use, the lid has an attractive aluminium surface that didn’t appear to pick up fingerprints – one thing glossy finishes can be guilty of.

 

There are no vents on the bottom of this Ultrabook; instead heat is dissipated through a vent at the back of the unit just below the power button. This keeps the underside from overheating – a handy feature considering this would be a very mobile device and will probably spend some time on the user’s lap.

 

Inputs and outputs are kept to a minimum. There is a SD/MMC card reader on the right hand side, and headphone socket on the left hand side. At the back are all the other connections: power, HDMI and two USB ports. As with all Ultrabooks, the Acer S3 has eschewed an optical drive in favour of its slimmer dimensions.

 

Ultrabooks are Intel’s answer to the burgeoning tablet market, and here are two areas they intend to compete head-to-head: battery life and power-up time. We started up the S3 and the SSD delivered an impressive 20 second boot-up time. When coming out of sleep it was almost negligible – if you were distracted by something out the window and looked away, by the time you looked back at the screen it would have been ready for you.

Battery life was quoted by Acer as being around 7 hours, but the eyebrow-raising figure was the standby time claimed – up to 50 days.

The island-style keyboard and integrated touchpad/clickpad kept in with the minimalist theme that the S3 was conveying. LED lights were absent with the exception of two subtle blue indicator LEDs next to the power button.

 

This was my first personal experience with an Ultrabook, and I walked away quite impressed. It’s more than a glorified netbook, and can hold its own against traditional notebooks. It’s not a direct tablet alternative in that the tablet OS and app ecosystem has its own advantages and indeed Acer’s own Iconia speaks to that market segment.

Some of the S3’s tablet-like characteristics could be attractive to that group of users that are more demanding of their devices, and indeed the Ultrabook may be their workhorse PC of choice, as it offers long battery life, instant on and high performance all wrapped in a cool, statement-making chassis.

Ultrabooks will definitely be compared to the MacBook Air, and for those that need or like to use Windows, that comparison will be a fair one. PC manufacturers such as Acer (and Toshiba & Asus, hopefully to be seen locally soon) will have a new category of portable PCs that both perform and look the part.

 

The Acer S3 is due to be released mid-October, with pricing and configurations to be confirmed shortly.

Will you be upgrading your current notebook to an Ultrabook? Feel free to comment below..

Ultrabooks: Thin Is In

You may not know it yet, but notebooks will be going through a revolution in the next 12 months. A new class of mobile PC will emerge: thin, light, style-focused and high-performing.

A women measuring her waistline

We've been concerned about our waistline for years and now it seems we also want thinner notebooks.

Fuelled by advancements and competitive innovation from both AMD and Intel, notebooks have ramped up in performance and specifications, but with the exception of a few, haven’t really shed their traditional notebook dimensions or basic characteristics such as boot up time and battery life. At the same time, tablets have become a mainstream product that can replace a notebook for some tasks.

The Ultrabook range, coined by Intel, addresses some of these issues affecting the notebook market. Although netbooks were the more mobile and lighter version of its notebook sibling, they are limited to a smaller screen and fitted to more basic PC tasks. Ultrabooks are designed to deliver the full PC experience, with the core propositions of “thin” and “light” manifesting themselves in stylish, eye-catching designs.

Ultrabooks will be the portable PC you want to use, and be seen using. The casual look-at-me email or Facebook check at a café will never have been more popular once these machines start making their way into the market.

There’s no doubt that notebooks are the best value they’ve ever been, and from a “bang for buck” perspective there’s never been a better time to upgrade if you feel the need to. But with longer battery times, an “always on” state similar to tablets, and a burning desire to reveal your sleek Ultrabook at every opportunity, you may find the attraction too hard to resist.

Intel are predicting that Ultrabooks will make up 40% of the consumer notebook market by the end of next year, with each successive Intel chip development driving even greater performance. The first range, due out in October, will make use of a low-voltage variant of the Sandy Bridge processor.

Acer will be the first PC manufacturer to reveal their Ultrabook lineup in Australia later this week, and we’ll be there to take a close look at their offering.

The revolution starts now.

Ritchie’s Chat Room: Intel Director Makiko Eda

As the director of Intel’s marketing and sales division for Asia Pacific, Makiko Eda can talk with authority about her company’s current and future position in a world now dominated by daily tablet announcements. Hailing from Japan, Eda was in Sydney to meet retailers and get an update on the Australian arm of the Intel business.

After the worldwide recall which affected all PC manufacturers, Intel is preparing to re-launch its second generation Core processors commonly known as Sandy Bridge. Eda is under no illusion that the recall did not affect business for both Intel and its customers, admitting there was “pain in the supply chain, delay, and missed opportunities in the market.”

Eda notes that they have strengthened their verification process in the production and testing areas, saying there is definitely a need for “an extra step at the factory”. After the success of the first generation of iCore models, Eda noted there was a “military” push to get the new chips to market, and when they did find the issue that sparked the recall, Intel “had to make a quick decision.”

That recall left much of the market starved of higher value product, particularly in the quad core notebook range. The challenge now is to make enough noise about a category that has been overwhelmed by the interest in tablets. “We hear a lot of concern, that computers are kind of boring”. The new range, Eda says, “has a lot of new capabilities and can bring more excitement into the category. As Intel we have to do a better job of communicating that excitement and experience that Sandy Bridge brings to the market.”

So how does Intel feel about the impending onslaught of tablets? “Tablets are a great device, but they’re not going to replace computers.” says Eda. “It’s going to be a secondary device, but it is getting a lot of attention in the market.” With NVidia becoming well known for their tablet processors, Eda says Intel will have their own offering in the second half of the year. “Our products will focus on energy efficiency, performance and added value to the tablet.”

In the meantime, Eda says that netbooks remain a viable alternative in the near future as a second device, and that Intel are working with manufacturers on innovations to keep the netbook category relevant. “We’ll come up with interesting form factors, like hybrids. You’ll get the goodness of tablets, ease of access and thinness but at the same time you have the convenience of the keyboard.”

Intel have set their sights on the lounge room as well, with a host of manufacturers showing off Intel-embedded Smart TVs at this year’s CES exhibition in Las Vegas. Said Eda, “We’re working with some partners to enable the internet experience on TV more seamlessly. We want to make it an out-of-the-box experience.”

With cloud computing also on the horizon from a consumer perspective, Eda believes that the enterprise space will derive the most benefit at this stage, where “the internal cloud makes more sense”. Consumers may not be ready to make the leap because “you rely so much on the communication infrastructure. You may still want to have a photo on your hard drive; you may have videos you want to see, without thinking ‘do I have an internet connection here’?”

Security will be foremost in the minds of end users when products like Chrome notebooks begin to make their way into the retail space, and to that end, Eda says that Intel are “working on hardware-based solutions”. Intel’s acquisition of McAfee may be part of that plan, with Eda hinting that Intel intends to “extract some of the (McAfee) goodness to integrate into the core business with security features in the future.”

With the computer industry evolving quicker than ever, Intel faces challenges from many corners, but Eda is confident of her company’s ability to repeat the successes of last year’s Core processor launch. As Eda explains, there’s more to computers than talking about speeds and specifications. With the marketing focus on the “experience”, rather than the product, Intel is “trying to put a little bit of the human side into it.”

Interview courtesy of Intel Australia.

2nd Generation Intel Core Models Have Landed

It’s exciting times in the PC industry. AMD are rolling out their new Fusion products, Android Honeycomb is set to be launched on a raft of new tablets, and Intel’s latest generation of Core Processors are finally being launched, after a recall that delayed the release of new notebooks across all brands.

This week, Bing Lee took delivery of the first two iterations of the new Intel range. We’ll be doing a full unboxing of both notebooks in the near future, but in the meantime here’s some brief specs and pictures to whet your appetite.

First up is the Samsung QX412, which replaces the QX310. It features a Gen 2 i5 processor, 1GB graphics card, HDMI output, DVD burner, and Samsung’s 3 second boot-up feature.

One of the impressive aspects of this model is the increase of the screen size to 14″ while using the same overall design from last year that used a 13.3″ screen, so it makes better use of the real estate – it really is a 14″ screen in a 13.3″ notebook chassis. The top lid is a cool-looking metal black, and reveals a silver/chrome surface on the keyboard area when opened. It’s definitely a style-setting notebook, with a great combination of looks and performance.

Also launched is the Acer AS5750G, which is our first Gen 2 quad core model. This notebook is all about grunt. The 2GHz quad core processor turbo boosts to 2.9GHz, and is backed up by a massive 2GB graphics card, 4GB memory and 640GB hard drive.

Other features include a 15.6″ screen, HDMI output and numeric keypad. It’s also one of the first notebooks to feature the new high speed USB 3.0 port, which can transfer files between it and a USB 3.0 storage device by over 10 times the speed of a standard USB 2.0.

The release of these models are a pleasant surprise as most Gen 2 models aren’t due out until April or May. We’re looking forward to taking both these models through their paces and presenting more details in the near future.

Intel’s New Processors: Bridging the Gap

On Tuesday 18th January, Intel hosted a media and retailer launch in Sydney to demonstrate their new processor range, the second generation of the Core Processor Family, commonly known as Sandy Bridge. Special overseas guest and Intel evangelist Mooly Eden revealed to the audience how processor development is changing within Intel, delivering his presentation with humour and enthusiasm. It’s a fairly dry subject, but Mooly managed to steer clear of too many specs and statistics and focus on the practical benefits that he and Intel believes the new range will deliver.

Intel Sandy Bridge General Manager Philip Cronin

General Manager of Intel Australia/New Zealand Phillip Cronin opens the event.

As a retail technology buyer, it was a great opportunity to gain some insight into the company whose name adorns millions of notebooks and desktops worldwide, yet remains hidden deep inside those products. The physical Intel product can only be imagined as a concept; it is what the platform enables us to do as users, that has secured its success as a microprocessor manufacturer.

Intel Sandy Bridge Mooly Eden

Highly entertaining and passionate about processors & people: Vice President & General Manager PC Client Group, Mooly Eden.

On a global scale, some of the statistics Mooly quoted are mind-boggling. One million PCs are shipped everyday around the world. The new processors carry 1.16 Billion transistors on each chip. From a user perspective, there are 2 billion internet users around the world, 240 billion emails sent per day, 2 billion videos viewed daily, and 2.5 billion images uploaded to Facebook per month. These usage figures are the ones that have brought into focus Intel’s challenge – to meet the demands of how we interact with our PC on a daily basis, which is far removed from our behaviour only a few years ago.

Intel Sandy Bridge Brain and Human Brain

Mooly reminded us that today’s chips are not too far away from having the same number of connections as a human brain. The words “Sky” and "Net” were thrown around as well.

PCs have indeed shifted from being a desktop in a room that everyone shared, to being a completely personal device that is used to socialise and communicate online. As more educated consumers, we have all progressed from looking at and comparing specs before purchasing a PC, to now judging whether that product would enhance the experience of what we would normally use a computer for – in other words, seeking out the practical benefits rather than checking out what’s under the hood.

Intel Sandy Bridge Samsung Notebooks

One of Samsung's hot new models. Also, there is a notebook in this picture.

At this launch, the issue of content creation versus consumption was raised, and I think it highlights one of the biggest challenges to chip makers. Most of us think that when we are moving our movies and music to a portable device, or uploading new photo albums to our Facebook account, it all falls under the umbrella of “consumption” – it’s all being moved around to be shared and enjoyed. Nothing is being “created” as far as the user is concerned.

However, from a PC perspective there is PLENTY going on. Every time a video moves from a PC to a portable device it needs to be “transcoded”, or changed from one format to another. This requires not only a high speed, reliable link between devices but also sheer processing power to alter the file into a format best suited to the device it’s being transferred to. Likewise with photos uploaded to Flickr or Facebook, the images need to be compressed without major quality loss before uploading. All of this is “creation” – creating a new file to fit the requirements of a new device or online destination.

Intel Sandy Bridge Acer Notebooks

Acer's new look premium notebooks, incorporating an innovative touch interface.

Yet, the expectation of any user, myself included, is that those activities should “just happen”. So behind the scenes, Intel is working to a new paradigm – determine the ideal user experience, understand the environment in which it’s happening and deliver hardware that can cope with those demands.

Quick Sync is a good example of supporting user behaviour. It’s basically a transcoding feature that speeds up the compression much quicker than any hardware before it. And because the HD graphics engine is on the same chip, Intel claim there is no need for a dedicated graphics card unless you’re a hardcore gamer or high definition video editor. The demo certainly was impressive, more so as it was without discreet graphics hardware. To drive the point home, some high resolution rendering and bulk-photo red-eye removal processes were demonstrated and were amazingly quick.

Mooly introduced the PC Theft Defence Service, which in simple terms assists in rendering a notebook useless if it was stolen and then connected to the internet by the thief – the user would be able to send a “suicide pill” which the notebook would pick up online and self-destruct. He also showed off a new game, Portal 2, which used motion-sensing equipment to navigate and control a third person shooter.

I was impressed with the avatar demonstration that replaced a person’s real face with a new, animated one – one which could be changed by choice. The point of the demo was to show what could be achieved with the new processors, and where man-machine interfaces may evolve.

Intel Sandy Bridge Avatar

Weirdest tech moment of the night: Mooly talks with an avatar of… well, himself.

The final announcement of the night was a new entertainment feature called “Intel Insider”, which allows full HD movies to be streamed if it detects the new Intel processors in the PC. Because the new Intel Core range uses encryption technology, some movie studios are warming to the idea of releasing full high definition digital versions of its movies – for a price of course. This represents a new distribution opportunity for an industry beset by piracy and illegal downloading.

Sandy Bridge Intel Insider for HD movies

Commercial or controversial? Intel Insider got tongues wagging. Intel didn't bite.

There are two sides to this from a user perspective. Firstly, it does open new markets for film studios to deliver movies in high quality without fear of the file being copied and distributed via torrents and P2P networks. iTunes has proven that people will pay for content when it’s easy to access, manage and enjoy. The flip side is this is the first time a component company, as opposed to a software company, has joined forces with movie studios, and the fear voiced in the room during question time revolved around Intel’s ability to determine what can be watched – if the chip can be used to access content, could it also be used to prevent certain files to be played? An interesting take, but probably not the conspiracy theory some hope for. Movie studios might yet embrace digital distribution on a larger scale, and this is one step towards opening up that comfort zone for the normally paranoid and protective film companies.

Of course, high definition streaming is one thing, but being able to watch it on a big screen is another. WiDi, which is an Intel feature enabling wireless streaming from a notebook to a flat panel screen, has been improved to 1080p streaming. This works in well with the full HD movie streaming offer. Content will be streamed from a content provider to the notebook, which will then push the content onto suitable televisions. This provides an opportunity for film studios, notebook makers and television brands to work with retailers to come up with a bundled offer that makes it easy for the customer to understand and use all the benefits that Sandy Bridge promises to deliver.

Intel Sandy Bridge WiDi Wireless Streaming

Full HD streaming from a notebook to an LCD. Wireless just took another leap forward.

There was a lot to absorb at the Intel Sandy Bridge launch, and the overall feeling I had was that Intel are reaching out to customers more than ever, bridging that gap between what the geniuses at the Intel labs think up in the theoretical world and what users are demanding in the real world. We’re looking forward to chatting to Intel in the near future to discuss their strategy in more detail.

Cheers until next time!

Intel Sandy Bridge Mooly Eden and Ritchie Djamhur

Myself and Mooly Eden after the Q & A session.

Interview with Aust/NZ AMD boss Brian Slattery

Here at Ritchie’s Room, we plan to have a monthly spotlight on a mover and shaker in the consumer electronics industry, to provide readers an insight into some of the challenges and opportunities faced by businesses in our sector, and hopefully a glimpse into the future technologies we may see. These will be honest chats with people I know and work with in the retail CE industry.

Brian Slattery, Country Manager, AMD

Our first featured interview is with the Australian and New Zealand Country Manager of AMD, Brian Slattery, who actually jumped at the chance to be our debut interviewee – which was surprising and humbling! AMD, along with their competitor Intel, produce the majority of the processors that are used in today’s notebooks, netbooks and desktops. Brian was gracious enough to spend some time discussing AMD’s customer segmentation, the battle against the marketing behemoth that is Intel, and how their message is communicated to potential customers.

One of the big take-outs from this session was the emphasis AMD is putting on graphics and leveraging the ATI acquisition in both production and marketing. The other clear direction from AMD is the strategy to “demystify” their proprietary technology in an effort to be understood and attractive to mainstream customers.

Full transcript is below. Thanks goes out again to Brian for his detailed and open responses.

Ritchie’s Room: Brian, thanks for taking the time to chat today. You’ve settled into the Australian market now for a little while – how do you see it differing to other international markets you’re familiar with?

Brian Slattery:    Hi Ritchie, thanks for your time as well. For your readers, a bit of background on myself – I was born and raised in the U.S. and lived and worked there until moving to Tokyo in 2003 to take advantage of my university degrees in Japanese and marketing. I worked in Japan for a few years before joining AMD in 2006, took on an Asia Pacific role in 2007, and moved to Sydney to take on my current role as Country Manager of Australia/New Zealand in late 2009.

The thing I love about the Australian market is the eager consumption of the latest technology, and the value Australian consumers recognize in new tech in our ever-changing market. The strong emphasis Australians place on graphics in particular was a welcome sight for me. With social media and what I call “digital memories” (digital photos, videos, even blogs and social media updates) becoming such a huge part of our lives, it is encouraging to see consumers pick up on the natural tie-in with graphics.

RR: Change is a huge driver of our industry – technology progression, end user behaviour, and the prominence of social media (to name a few) all intersect at the manufacturer’s ability to provide products that suit the market’s evolving needs. How do you see the PC market changing (or staying the same) in the next 12 months, and how does AMD intend to position itself in this market?

BS: We’re well past the phase where having a PC is “nice” – now it’s essential. Since PCs have become an everyday part of our lives, I think we’ll continue to see the need to not only provide the tech part of the solution, but the need for those of us in the industry to be “translators of technology.” It’s not enough to have the latest and greatest specs; we need to be able to clearly explain if a PC fits the unique needs of each consumer. We have developed Vision Technology with that in mind.

We are able to leverage AMD’s distinction of being the only company that provides both x86 processors and discrete graphics cards to ensure that the combination of those two technologies specifically meets customer needs, whether that be an entry level PC for someone who wants to simply check email, cruise the Internet, and handle some productivity tasks all the way up to consumers who want nothing but the best in gaming, video rendering, music editing, and mega tasking. I think the companies that can best articulate how to meet the needs of consumers without getting too deep into technical discussions will be best suited to keep consumers happy, and AMD is in a great position to do exactly that.

RR: The iPad has shown that users have embraced the portable touchscreen concept, and the overall tablet category is gearing up to explode with most big brand vendors preparing to make an offering either late this year or early next year. Do you see this new category eating into the existing market or creating new market opportunities? What’s AMD’s strategy in the tablet space?

BS: I think the success of the iPad cannot be denied, and is a pleasant surprise as it has opened up a new segment. Personally, I see that particular spin on the tablet form factor as being very much a “consumption device.” People are hungry for the ability to quickly browse the Internet for some quick facts, read a few news articles, play a five minute game to kill some time, and then return to whatever they were doing.

I think tablets today do have some limitations in being used as a “creativity device” so I think the existing PC market will remain strong. As a secondary or even tertiary device, however, there are a lot of merits tablets can bring to the table. While I cannot comment on specific products, we do have solutions at AMD that can address this exciting new space and I hope we will see them in the hands of Australian consumers soon.

RR: Intel is fairly dominant in the Australian market, particularly in the mainstream retailers. How does AMD cut through the noise generated by your competitor’s mass marketing activities?

BS: There are many price points and product ranges where AMD based solutions are significantly outselling our competitor’s products, and we are able to manage this by providing the best price-performance possible to consumers — not television commercial campaigns that end up being paid for by consumers. We take pride in working with retail sales staff that end up wholeheartedly recommending AMD products to customers in their stores because they recognize the outstanding products and value we can bring to consumers.

RR: Regarding customer decision-making, there seems to be much less reliance on “speeds and feeds” as opposed to the practical benefits of computer features these days. How does AMD address this as a company that produces one of the main “speed” factors in PC hardware?

BS: We divide our consumer audience into two segments: The “processor aware” and the “processor unaware”. Historically, this industry focused on a very small percentage of the population that could tell you about the benefits of a 2.8 GHz dual-core processor vs a 2.3 GHz quad-core processor. We can have that discussion with the processor-aware. But for the average person looking to purchase a PC today, they will tell you exactly what they expect to DO with their computer. They want to stream HD videos from YouTube, or edit photos from their latest collection. Maybe they want to have a video chat with a relative living abroad, or play the latest games. Those are real world usage scenarios.

With Vision Technology from AMD, we can map those usage needs to the right processor and graphic combinations –the platforms – that will enable consumers to get the experience they want from their PC. The magic is that we can do it without someone needing to study all of those speeds and feeds or do hours of research on what specs their computer needs. For people who want to know the tech, sure we can talk about it, but we feel our Vision levels (Vision, Vision Premium, Vision Ultimate, and Vision Black) create a “seal of approval” to comfort the non-technical consumers out there that a PC with the appropriate level of Vision Technology will do exactly what the consumer wants it to do.

RR: It looks like one of the holy grails for the ATI acquisition will be realised with the world’s first APU (accelerated processing unit) being released. When do you see these being integrated into consumer PCs, and what improvements will end users experience with the fusion of the CPU and GPU?

BS: I was working at the AMD Japan office in Tokyo the day our company announced that it was acquiring ATI, and you could feel the excitement surrounding the potential of the two companies combined surge through the room. Putting the CPU and GPU together on one piece of silicon will bring a higher level of performance, lower power, and a fantastic end user experience. More and more applications today are dependent on GPU technology, such as exploring the globe with Google Earth to converting videos to a format for use with a handheld mobile device. The first APU products have already shipped to our OEM partners, and we fully expect to see products on shelf in Q1 2011. Keep your eyes peeled.

RR: For some time now, whitegoods and audio-visual manufacturers have been communicating the “environmentally friendly” message and making changes to products as part of their “green” initiatives. Do you work with the PC manufacturers on power consumption and other “green” issues? Does the shift from being a processor-driven company to platform-driven assist in tackling climate change and other top-of-mind customer concerns?

BS: AMD has been a leading innovator in addressing the need to be environmentally conscious while producing great technology. We brought worldwide attention towards green IT with our first generation of Opteron processors several years ago, and continue to be an industry leader with every product line released. Those interested in reading more can learn about some of our more surprising activities at: http://www.amd.com/us/aboutamd/corporate-responsibility/environmental-performance/Pages/enviromental-performance.aspx

RR: Thanks for your time today, Brian. As a final question, can you give an insight into AMD as an employer, and how innovation is encouraged to produce market winning ideas and products?

BS: I’ve been working with AMD for the past four and a half years, and am a fan of the company for many reasons beyond the fact they sign my pay check. I truly feel AMD brings choice to customers, and choice brings innovation. That drive to innovate flows through the entire company, and we are all encouraged to be creative on how to best serve our customers, produce technology customers need, and now more than ever make certain customers can easily match their wants and needs to the appropriate products based on Vision technology.. Thank you for your time, and thank you to all of the readers of your blog in their support for AMD.

One thing is certain: if everyone at AMD shares the same passion and enthusaism as Brian for their product, they’ll be a force to be reckoned with.

Thanks for reading and see you again soon!

Intel’s New “Sandy Bridge” Sneak Peak

This week, two of my contacts from Intel came to visit me. The purpose? To show me a demonstration of their new Sandy Bridge Processor, and Bing Lee had the honour of being the first retailer in Australia to see it in action.

Being under a confidentiality agreement, I can’t talk about the specifics of the demos or specs that were displayed. What I can say is that the demonstrations definitely showed that the new processors perform impressively well, utilising the GPU/CPU combination that this new 32nm platform offers.

Intel have been talking up Sandy Bridge for a little while now, so there is some information out there, however to see it in action was exciting. It’s no secret that a huge proportion of internet traffic is video and will continue to grow its share, and that video transcoding from PC to portable device is a common task. From an end-user perspective, PC gaming, video content and the way it is delivered and managed is a big focus for the new Intel range and it’s great to see real-life applications benefiting from the new architecture.

That’s all I can say for now, but thanks to Intel for the demo, and look forward to posting more details closer to the launch date!