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The Turion 64 Inside Story

Turion 64 Mobile Technology: Saving Grace For Third-party Chipset Makers?

Do you still remember March 12, 2003? That's the day when Intel launched its not-yet-finished mobile technology called Centrino with great fanfare. At the same time, they let the entire mobile hardware world know that they could use this technology to build successful and profitable devices from power-saving CPUs, chipsets and wireless LAN modules. But the mobile PC world suffered in the months that followed from a dearth of new offerings without any significant differences among them as Intel bombarded the airwaves and print media with a relentless Centrino marketing blitz. Third-party chipset and wireless LAN module builders found themselves edged out of the market overnight, with little or no demand for their products from system builders.

Two years later, the primary consequence of this announcement appears to be a glut of some exaggeratedly designed notebooks all bearing the Centrino brand, none of which can be easily distinguished from another on technical merits. On first blush, this may not appear to pose problems for notebook buyers, but it does put Intel on track to expand its market-leading position into an outright monopoly. When that happens there's never a real guarantee that products will be continuously improved and enhanced or that buyers will get the best bang for their mobile technology bucks. And, as a kind of scary example and warning about what such market position can mean, you need only think of a well-known software maker based in Redmond, WA. Today, many people are unhappy with Intel's products and pricing, and seek an alternative to what the Centrino leaves unfulfilled.

AMD Turion 64 Mobile Technology: The "open" Notebook Platform

Meanwhile, it's still possible to counter the quasi-monopoly that current prevails in the notebook arena. A few months ago , AMD launched a high-performance but energy-saving processor as part of its Turion 64 offering, whose relatively low appetite for power makes it appear pre-destined for use in thinner, lighter notebooks. AMD's so-called Turion 64 mobile technology differs enough from that of its competition that we'd like to name it an "open notebook platform" instead. In adopting this technology, notebook vendors can free themselves from a kind of steered market mentality should they choose to do so, and can decide for themselves which chipsets and wireless LAN modules to use. But of course, notebook vendors can only exercise such choices for so long as third-party notebook chipset and WLAN module vendors continue to offer products to buyers. The success of the Turion 64, AMD's new, power-saving CPU for use in thin-and-light notebooks, is thus tightly tied to the success and perhaps even the outright survival of the few independent chipset and WLAN component vendors still in the notebook market.

What the Turion 64 can do, and what its related mobile technology offering can deliver, is what we want to cover in this review. We also seek to describe what the mobile Sempron has going for it, and how AMD's "open" mobile technology offsets Intel's one size fits all counter offerings.

As our basis for this CPU comparison test we used a Turion 64 notebook from MSI - namely, the Megabook M635 - along with a Gigabyte Centrino system - namely, the W511A. Both of these mobile PCs provide the basis for comparisons that appear under the heading of "Test Systems" later in this review.