The general public has historically purchased PCs and laptops based on criterion such as price and convoluted specifications. In the past, the two leading processor (CPU) manufacturers, Intel and AMD, have swayed marketing efforts by drawing particular attention to CPU clock-speeds, caches and, to a lesser extent, the various speeds and feeds associated with the graphics card and memory, often confusing customers with a dazzling array of hard-to-fathom numbers and code-names.
Most people contemplating a new PC have traditionally equated more as better without really appreciating what they're purchasing. For example, a Gulftown-based Intel Core i7 980X Extreme Edition 3.33GHz chip with 12MB of L3 cache, and 8GB of DDR3-2,000MHz CL7 RAM don't mean much outside of a select band of enthusiasts.
Launched 200 days ago under the VISION Technology brand, AMD is helping redefine how PCs are sold, based on genuine user requirements than on arcane figures. This guide explains how VISION works and what to look out for on a VISION-enabled PC or notebook.
VISION at the most basic level
The purpose of VISION, then, is to take away what AMD deems as unnecessary technical information and to replace it with easy-to-understand requirements that resonate with Joe Public.
Drawing a car analogy, a prospective purchaser of a new Ford Mondeo would likely be less concerned with the exact horsepower and torque of the engine - akin to, say, CPU speed and memory frequency - and be more interested in interior room, insurance costs, general fuel consumption, and, even, to how many cup-holders the car has - pragmatic user requirements, in other words.
AMD is in a position to launch such branding on PCs manufactured by companies such as Acer, Dell, HP and ASUS because VISION-branded machines take advantage of AMD's CPUs, chipsets (motherboards) and graphics. By having these three components, which form the backbone for every system, AMD is able to prescribe which PCs meet certain VISION standards.
Appreciating that VISION is a method of simplifying the PC-buying experience based on usability rather than specifications, here's how the four VISION categories - Basic, Premium, Ultimate, and Black - are defined.
The criteria required for certification at a particular level is shown in the picture, above. At the most basic level, VISION guarantees that the PC is able to run common everyday tasks such as emailing, viewing photos, surfing the web and listening to music.
The elementary feature-set of VISION Basic means that the vast majority of AMD-based PCs and notebooks on the retail shelves will meet the requirements. Generally speaking, these machines retail from £200 and rise to £500. AMD, however, does not provide consumers with the exact specifications required for VISION branding, keeping the table matrix secret.
Going up a notch in specification and price, VISION Premium is a superset of VISION Basic, meaning that Premium-branded PCs and notebooks will run all of Basic's feature-set and provide extra functionality on top.
In particular, the better (read more expensive) components constituting a Premium PC ensure that you can watch Blu-ray movies (assuming a compatible drive is present), convert videos and CDs, and play basic games. AMD also states that the Premium PCs and notebooks can run several programs at once - multitasking - indicating the use of many-core CPUs.
As a general rule of thumb, Premium PCs and notebooks start at around £400 and, such is the flexibility in specification, can cost up to £1,000.
Traditionally aimed at the power user or avid gamer, VISION Ultimate PCs and notebooks provide you with even more power and speed. For those in the technical know, desktop machines are equipped with, most likely, quad-core processors and a graphics card from AMD's latest 5000-series range.
AMD leaves some of the specification rather open-ended, with an example being 'advanced multitasking', whatever that may mean, and the distinction between Premium and Ultimate is often difficult to make. Another factor that is somewhat confusing is how the Ultimate nomenclature is different, if at all, on notebooks and desktops, because it's easier to shoehorn more power into a larger desktop case.
VISION Ultimate PCs and notebooks will satisfy all but the most power-hungry of users, however, and systems/notebooks ship with a wide range of pricing - right up to £1,500 in some cases.
At the very highest end of the VISION spectrum is VISION Black. These are the very best computers based on AMD technology. The fact that they support Microsoft's DX11 API and also cater for AMD's multi-monitor Eyefinity technology means that the graphics cards in the machines are guaranteed to be from the latest range.
VISION Black PCs are ostensibly aimed at the enthusiast and genuine power user and are therefore also equipped with four- and six-core CPUs and the latest motherboards with support for cutting-edge technologies such as USB 3.0 and SATA 6.
The target market may well be aware of the technical details of the components that comprise a VISION Black system, perhaps undermining the simplification approach from AMD, but it still provides a rough-and-ready reckoner that the system should be capable of handling any application or usage scenario thrown at it.
VISION - into the future
The intrinsic elegance of AMD's VISION is that the four broad categories aren't tied to any particular components that will inevitably change over time. For example, next year's VISION Premium CPUs and graphics cards will, at the same price point, likely be better than those available today. Should this come to pass, AMD will simply juggle the list of features as it sees fit.
By collaborating with large PC builders such as HP and Dell, AMD is able to sell three components - CPU, motherboard and graphics - rather than just one. What's more, the up-sell means that both AMD and its partners eke out profit from the sale.
AMD's VISION Technology aims to provide easy-to-understand information on the capabilities of a wide range of AMD-powered systems. Split into four categories that guarantee certain features without being complicated by techno-jargon, AMD hopes that the VISION program enables its partners to sell desktop PCs and notebooks with greater openness and clarity.
So the next time you see a VISION sticker on a desktop PC or notebook, remember that it's all about making it easier for you, the consumer, to appreciate what you're purchasing.