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The Intel Atom N280 and AMD Athlon Neo MV40 are the two most popular Netbook processors. I emphasise Netbook here because I have seen attempts to sell machines having either of these as laptop and at times even desktop computers! Anyone buying a machine equipped with these processors expecting high level computing power will be disappointed. If you need a laptop buy a real laptop.

NOTE: This article discusses specific processor numbers. It may not apply to newer versions of these processors.

AMD has been lagging behind in the netbook market, where Intels Atom processor has found a strong foothold. The Atom is primarily a single-core processor (some newer variants of the Atom are dual core). It is a redo of the Intel Celeron, but with a serious thought to power consumption. While not as powerful as dual-core processors, it found place in the Netbook market due to its 2 to 4W power consumption and cheap price, making netbooks like the ASUS Eee PC 1000HE and Samsung NC10 last upto 8 hours on a battery.

AMD decided to follow Intels lead and repackaged the Athlon K8 to call it Athlon Neo. The Athlon Neo MV40 is a 64-bit single-core processor running at 1.6GHz. It is rated at 15W, which is higher than the Atom. So don’t expect very long battery life for something that has the Athlon Neo in it. What about 64bits? Well 32 or 64 bit does not add much value in the Netbook market1.

So how does the Athlon Neo compare up with the Atom? Here is a showdown table:

Attribute Athlon Neo MV402 Intel Atom N2803 (2009) Intel Atom N4504 (2010)
Speed: 1.60GHz 1.66GHz 1.66GHz
Core: Single Single Single
L2 Cache: 512Kb 512Kb 512Kb
Power: 15W 2.5W 5.5W
64-bit: Yes No Yes
Technology: 65nm 45nm 45nm
Virtualization: Yes No No

However Athlon Neo chipsets do provide better graphics capability using ATI X1250 or ATI HD3410 graphics and Netbooks with Athlon Neo are able to support Windows Vista and decent video playback. So should you buy the Athlon Neo? Well it depends on what you are looking for. On the plus side, the Athlon Neos better graphics support means Netbooks equipped with it will support HD playback and Windows Vista. So if you are looking for a Netbook mainly for watching movies then the Neo may work better for you. However the Neo and the associated graphics will kill your battery life and in some ways defeat the purpose of having a Netbook. If you want to browse the net in a coffee house, twitter, check email, manage your schedule or organise your digital pictures choose the Atom and forget your charger at home!

Let one thing be clear though, Athlon Neo and Atom equipped computers are still Netbooks designed for light use and they will crumble when multi-tasking and running today's demanding applications, games or when used for advanced photo editing and video encoding. So if you are looking for a portable laptop for serious work, stay away from both the Athlon Neo and the Atom.


  1. by Anonymous (not verified)

    May be 15 Watt is less than 2.5 Watts. This article compares only the processor power consumption which is low on the Atom, but it still needs a chipset. If you compare whole systems it does not look bad for the Neo platform.

    1. by Ali (not verified)

      The article compares the processors not the chipsets and on that account the Atom deserves technical merit. Also the fact that the Neo cannot provide a longer battery life primarily due to its (and the corresponding chipsets) higher power requirements defeats the whole Netbook = Ultra portable computer argument and makes the Netbook concept moot for me.

      1. by Anonymous (not verified)

        The maximum power consumption is totally meaningless without mentioning the performance! I would love to have a 1 GW (gigaWatt, 1 billion Watts!) processor as long as it had a good performance/Watt and low idle power. The batteries would last just as long with a processor like that compared to a 1 Watt processor with the same performance/Watt and idle power, but all computations would complete a billion times faster!

        1. by Ali (not verified)

          True. But you have not defined 'performance' of the processor. If you take the raw GHz value then the Neo has the same performance (1.66GHz) as the Atom and therefore its performance/watt is lower. More realistically lets take the benchmark value of the Neo-MV40 as 388 while that of the Atom N280 as 314. Even in this case the performance/watt of the atom is much better. Again i'm not saying the Neo is a bad processor by itself, just that its power consumption defeats the whole all-day-portable computing purpose of Netbooks.

          1. by Svetoslav (not verified)

            I've been searching for a decent netbook quite some time. I found the ThinkPad x100e to be the perfect netbook (well, they try to see it as something between a netbook and a laptop) for my needs. I don't require a lot of battery life and 3-4 hours is good anyway. I have to agree that the CPU is only part of the formula here. Lenovo have done a great job optimizing the system to run just fine. Multitasking is challenging and 5-6 pages with heavy flash banners can really make this thing run slow.

            The neo seems a good cpu though, having in mind I was thinking to buy an atom netbook. The graphic performance is really a lot more than what you can get in the same price range and it is not for the Win 7 glitter, but for the decent video playback and some older adventure games every now and then :).

            Great post on the CPUs. I enjoyed reading it and it's great to see a discussion.