AMD laptop offers style but is hot on the thighs
Two years after Intel Corp. made a splash with computer chips specially designed for notebook PCs, rival Advanced Micro Devices Inc. jumped on the bandwagon with a microprocessor similarly pitched to the portable crowd.
Like Intel's Centrino processors, the AMD Turion 64 is supposed to offer zippy performance but use significantly less power than chips designed for regular desktop computers.
To see how the new AMD chip stacks up, I borrowed Hewlett-Packard Co.'s Special Edition L2000 "LiveStrong" notebook.
Not only does it run on a Turion. It also - rather unusually - has the name of cyclist Lance Armstrong's foundation printed on the case.
The LiveStrong notebook line starts at about $900 but my model as configured runs about $1,249. (For each of these notebooks sold, HP and AMD are donating $50 the LiveStrong Foundation to promote cancer survivorship programs.)
Centrino systems with a similar configuration are available for roughly the same price. So the Turion obviously isn't being positioned as a low-cost alternative to Centrino.
Performance-wise, the strategy makes sense.
The LiveStrong notebook had no problem running software ranging from Web browsers and e-mail programs to word processors and games. I watched DVD movies and there was not a single hiccup to suggest the system was under any strain.
But it didn't fare so well in other areas likely to be important to anyone buying a mobile computer - battery life and heat.
While watching movies with the notebook on my lap, my legs got uncomfortably warm and sweaty. It's a problem I've never experienced with a Centrino system though high temperatures are fairly common with notebooks built with regular desktop processors inside.
But the LiveStrong's biggest disappointment was its battery life. After fully charging the battery, I continuously played movies for about 1 hour, 45 minutes before it was depleted. By comparison, I got 2 hours and 10 minutes of play on a Centrino-based Toshiba Satellite M45-S351.
After recharging the battery, I ran another test by sitting on the couch and surfing the Web. This time, the LiveStrong notebook lived longer - 2 hours, 20 minutes - before the battery pooped out. That compares with 2 hours, 40 minutes on the Centrino system.
That said, comparisons are not precise.
Though the Turion and Centrino notebooks both had six-cell batteries, their microprocessors ran at slightly different clock speeds (1.8 gigahertz for the AMD-based HP notebook, 1.73 GHz for the Intel-based Toshiba).
Also, AMD is only supplying the microprocessor - the brains of the computer. Intel, on the other hand, requires PC makers to use the Intel Pentium M processor, an Intel chipset and an Intel wireless radio before they can use the Centrino brand name.
The approach doesn't just mean more money but more control for Intel. Still, when it comes to squeezing the most performance out of electronics with least amount of power, that sort of clout can be a good thing.
The Turion also is a 64-bit chip, which means it can handle more memory than the 32-bit Pentium M processor. But the LiveStrong doesn't ship with the 64-bit version of Windows; instead, it comes with the 32-bit edition of Windows XP. Even if it did, HP offers only up to 2 gigabytes of memory (for $475 more) - well below the 4 GB maximum for 32-bit chips.
The LiveStrong does have its strong points, including a bright 14-inch display, solid-sounding speakers and 512 megabytes of memory included in the default configuration. It also includes ports for plugging in Universal Serial Bus, video and FireWire devices. And it has a built-in, 6-in-1 memory card reader. In all, it weighs just over 5 pounds.
Its looks aren't terribly exciting. It's a black box with a large yellow "LiveStrong" logo painted on the lid. Opened, there's a quote from Armstrong - "I live strong" - and his signature to the right of the tracking pad.
To reinforce the connection to the charity, HP also includes yellow ear buds and one of those ubiquitous yellow bracelets worn by supporters of Armstrong's foundation. The default - and changeable - desktop pattern is a blinding yellow, too.
And, in a possible nod to the rigors of cycling, the LiveStrong will indeed make your lap sweaty.