HP is switching to AMD for its new alternative to traditional desktop PCs.

The company's new BC1500 blade PC uses a special low-power Athlon 64 processor from AMD in place of the Transmeta Efficeon processors in older versions, said Tad Bodeman, director of HP's CCI and thin client products.

Blade PCs are essentially a collection of motherboards stacked in a chassis, similar to how blade servers are deployed. They allow IT departments to centrally manage their PCs in order to improve the security and reliability of those systems.

Unlike a thin client, a blade PC gives each user a processor, memory, and hard drive reserved for their use, rather than having to share resources with everyone else on a server. The blade chassis sits in a company's server room and is connected via Ethernet cables to a small box that sits on the user's desktop, where a standard monitor, keyboard, mouse, and other peripherals can be connected.

With Transmeta abandoning processor production to focus on licensing its intellectual property, HP decided to work with AMD on integrating a low-power 64-bit processor into the compact blade PC format, Bodeman said. The processor consumes only nine watts of power, meaning it can be used without a fan on the motherboard.

Meanwhile, Sun is pushing ahead with its vision of thin clients, announcing a new Sun Ray line last week in conjunction with Wyse. Software called Secure Global Desktop lets thin clients access applications on a variety of systems including Windows, Linux or Unix.

The business arguments for moving to either server-based thin clients or blade PCs in data centres are similar. Both technologies promise IT cost reductions through more centralised systems management and reduced desktop support needs. But that's where agreement ends among users and among vendors.

The BC1500 comes with an Athlon 64 1500+ processor, 512MB of DDR SDRAM and a 40GB hard drive. To get up and running, customers must also buy a blade PC chassis, which can accommodate up to 20 individual blades, and an HP e-class Gigabit Ethernet networking switch.

Including management software and the desktop access device, IT managers could expect to pay about $1,000 per user for the setup, Bodeman said. Although this may seem like a lot compared to the prices of similarly configured desktops, which might cost as much as $600 less per unit, blade PCs allow IT departments to lower the costs of managing their PCs over the long term, he said. For example, administrators don't need to walk around to each PC to replace faulty hardware or patch buggy systems.

As virtualisation technologies become more prevalent, the cost savings become even more apparent, Bodeman said. Both AMD and Intel are planning to build hardware support for virtualisation software into upcoming processors, which could allow IT managers to assign multiple users to a single blade, he said.