Where one manufacturer leads, sooner or later the rest of the market will be forced to follow. So it was only a matter of time before AMD came out and announced that, just like Intel, it had a mobile dual core offering. The thing is, we've known about its existence for close to a year, but if you tried to speak to anyone at AMD about it, they would flatly deny its existence.
To make matters worse, the AMD Turion 64 X2 had a stealth-like soft launch. There's been no fan fare, no mass release of chips and there are very few machines that possess it.
The Asus A7Tc was one of the first machines we've seen sporting the chip - but that doesn't mean a price premium has to be paid - at £1,099 this is a machine within most users' price range. Contrary to most of what AMD has mentioned about the Turion X2 being for thin and light notebooks, the Asus laptop is a hulking 4.2Kg chassis that provides a true definition of the term 'desktop replacement'.
The build quality is certainly up to the usual Asus standard and the finish is smooth to the touch. Built around a 17.1-inch gloss-coated Super-TFT with a native resolution of 1,680x1,050 pixels, it's pinpoint sharp and bright enough to handle games and multimedia tasks. With its built-in hybrid analog/digital TV tuner and its good-sized speakers, this machine can easily be set up as a media centre. You'll even find that it comes preloaded with Windows XP Media Centre Edition.
A Core Duo match
The star of the show is the Turion 64 X2 TL-60, which is the fastest member of this mobile-focused family, and as the name suggests it supports 64-bit operations too - unlike Intel's current mobile offering. Both cores have a clock speed of 2GHz, so there's plenty of power on offer. With a speed boost on the Front Side Bus to 667MHz, AMD chips now match Core Duo and are also capable of handling DDR2 memory, with 1GB installed as standard.
Strange then, that our tests left a bitter taste in the mouth. It's not so much that the processor handles badly - SYSmark 2004 returned a score of 163 - it's more that it trails quite markedly behind Intel's Core Duo with a similar clock speed. A good deal of this may be down to the use of only 1MB of Level 2 cache on the Turion, compared to 2MB on the Core Duo. While Intel has opted for shared L2 cache, which can be flushed to speed up performance, AMD's solution is to stick with 512KB specific to each core.
With a thermal design power of 35W it uses more power than Core Duo, which rolls in at 31W. One obvious side effect of this power consumption comes in the form of battery life. True, this is a large machine and it isn't intended for regular mobile life, but we'd like to see more from a battery than just over two hours.
One real advantage for dual core in the home is for the gamer; one core can handle many of the more strenuous tasks, such as managing the sound and graphics controller, while the second core handles the actual game. With such a hefty chassis and classic screen, we were expecting an impressive graphics subset, but while the NVIDIA GeForce Go 7600, with 256MB of DDRIII memory on-board, isn't exactly entry-level it's a rather mainstream offering for such a large chassis.
The reason for this is in the choice of a Type II MXM adaptor that holds the card - the chassis can't physically hold the larger adaptor size. That said, with a 3DMark 2005 score of 3,069, you'll still be able to get a decent frame rate out of most current games.
The Asus A7Tc itself is a great notebook, managing to pack a host of features into a chassis that's strong and robust enough for use about the home. With regards to the AMD Turion 64 X2, it's early days and the chip may need time to get refined; from our initial sampling, it doesn't match Intel on the performance stakes, so let's just hope AMD has an aggressive price plan for the chip. Mike Browne