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All Eyes on Advanced Micro Devices’ Mullins

At Computex 2014, Advanced Micro Devices (NASDAQ: AMD  ) launched a mobile APU platform known as Kaveri for notebooks. Some will argue that this move significantly improves the company's competitive position; others, including yours truly, believe it won't fundamentally change Advanced Micro Devices' competitive position in the upper tiers of the notebook market. While the ultimate impact of that new product is still up in the air, the company's latest tablet and convertible product -- known as Mullins -- remains the one to watch.

What's the deal with Mullins?
Mullins is a low-power chip targeted toward convertible and tablet products, particularly those running Microsoft's (NASDAQ: MSFT  ) Windows 8.1. The company demonstrated the part in a reference design known as the "Discovery Tablet," and reviewers who had some hands-on time with the design came away impressed with the performance of the device. In benchmark scores, it compared favorably to Intel's (NASDAQ: INTC  ) Bay Trail-T, which powers most Windows tablets available today.

However, there two concerns took a bit of the shine off of the otherwise impressive results. The first is simply that while the performance looks good, the device that the chip was in was fairly large and bulky -- much larger than what most people expect from a tablet. The next is that not a single hardware partner has announced design wins for Mullins, even though AMD and its partners could have done so at AMD's recent APU14 conference and again at Computex (for a more detailed take on the design win situation, see Sam Reynolds' excellent write-up over at VR-Zone).

Why does this even matter?
One could argue that AMD doesn't really need a presence in tablets -- after all, it's a crowded, cutthroat market. But if you consider the fact that the tablet market is growing rapidly while the traditional PC market is down, AMD probably needs some sort of meaningful presence in the tablet space. Furthermore, if convertible Windows tablet/PC-type devices can gain significant traction (winning back consumer wallet share from traditional tablets), the company would be well positioned if it had a competitive product since only AMD and Intel can provide solutions compatible with full Windows 8.1.

While Windows isn't guaranteed to succeed in grabbing back share from Android or iOS, Microsoft's aggressive action in making Windows 8.1 free for devices with screen sizes below 9 inches at least opens the door. Intel is being assertive here, going so far as to provide cost-reduced parts for $100 Windows tablets. Still, with a competitive product (on both performance and cost), AMD could grab some nontrivial volume here too and help stabilize its computing solutions group. This is why the company's Mullins is important and why I'm keenly watching for potential design wins here.

Foolish bottom line
There is no question that Mullins is much more competitive than the prior-generation Hondo and Temash chips that AMD tried to push into the Windows tablet market. That said, the competitiveness of the platform in more power constrained and smaller form factors, as well as the cost of the surrounding bill of materials, remains to be seen. While the platform has yet to appear in any announced designs, keep an eye out for design wins during the year.

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Comments from our Foolish Readers

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  • Report this Comment On June 09, 2014, at 4:19 PM, briansp wrote:

    You sure write a lot of articles about a company that you do not believe in. Why?

  • Report this Comment On June 09, 2014, at 5:11 PM, ta152h wrote:

    The tablet market is rough for AMD, although not because they don't have a good product for it. Everything else is against them.

    First, Windows 8.1 isn't a big player in the market, so that severely limits what AMD can even hope for. Then, we have the inertia of AMD products being in lower-end devices, even though AMD is the higher end part in this market, and Intel the lower end. Then, you have Intel's contra-funding.

    Add it all up, and despite having a very good product, everything else makes this a very difficult situation. Sure, Mullins is a higher performing part than competing Intel products, but can OEMs get this point across to enough people that they can make profits? When the public looks at AMD processors, at best, as "good-enough", not superior? Again, selling into a small part of the tablet market. Plus, you use Intel, and you pay a lot less, and the public will probably perceive it as being superior, regardless of reality.

    It's just not easy to see OEMs going that way. I wouldn't if I were an OEM, even though I consider Mullins a far better product than Intel's tablet processors. That's not the issue. The issue, always, at the end of the day is, will the product sell enough to be profitable. I'm just not that clear it would, and think Intel based products would have a far better chance.

    I hate when the market acts this way, but it's still the reality of the situation.

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Ashraf Eassa

Ashraf Eassa is a technology specialist with The Motley Fool. He writes mostly about technology stocks, but is especially interested in anything related to chips -- the semiconductor kind, that is. Follow him on Twitter:

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