The Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas is regularly used to showcase new technologies, but this year Intel and AMD have used the event to officially unveil next-generation processor families with enhanced graphics capabilities that promise to give a boost to laptops in particular.
Both new processor families promise increased performance for their target markets, but the major emphasis in both cases is on integrated graphics capabilities built into the processor for the first time. These have the potential to improve the user experience, particularly on mobile systems such as ultra-thin laptops.
In Intel's case, Sandy Bridge puts the graphics functions onto the same silicon as the processor cores for the first time, compared with existing Core processor models that have graphics in the same package, but on a separate silicon die.
Meanwhile, AMD's Fusion chips go further in actually integrating a full-function graphics processor unit (GPU) onto the same chip alongside the standard processor cores.
The company expects this to deliver impressive graphics performance even on ultra-portable systems that have traditionally been constrained by power consumption issues or which were simply too small to accomodate a discrete GPU.
Gartner analyst Rene Millman suggested that this could give AMD an advantage in the netbook market, as it puts more graphics horsepower into such devices.
"It is not so much what [Fusion] will do for AMD, but what AMD will do for netbooks and laptops that currently find it difficult to compete with tablets such as the iPad or Android-based devices," he said.
However, Intel's Sandy Bridge also promises to boost graphics handling with new Advanced Vector Extension instructions in the processor cores, and specialised hardware called Intel Quick Sync Video to accelerate video encoding and decoding functions.
While the two firms have thus taken different architectural approaches, both are targeting similar markets with the first releases of the new chips.
AMD is chiefly aiming at mainstream laptops with its E-Series Fusion chips, while the C-Series will fit devices such as netbooks and tablets.
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