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AMD Introduces New Mainstream and Ultra-Portable Platforms

Author: Josh Walrath
Subject: Processors
Manufacturer: AMD
Tagged:

2009 Mainstream Platform

Tigris (Good thing they didn’t codename me “Cheney”)

    If in fact AMD had codenamed their 2009 mainstream platform “Cheney”, I’m sure the DailyKos would self-destruct in an apoplectic fit.  Instead AMD chose the far more hydrologically relevant “Tigris”.  Though of course AMD is treading on thin ice here with accusations of “American Imperialism” and “blood for oil”.  But again, I digress.

This is essentially the die of the Caspian processor being used in the Tigris platform.

    There are two significant changes to this platform from the last one.  The first is of course the use of the new RS880M chipset, which features the Radeon HD 4200 graphics.  This is again based on the same chipset that powers the desktop 785G, but it is tuned through process modifcations and clockspeeds to be a more power and heat efficient part.

    This is a fully DX 10.1 compliant part, and features UVD2.  Basically two UVD units so it can do two high definition streams at once.  It of course also has many of the advanced video playback features such as flesh tones, dynamic contrast enhancement, etc.  It is by far the most advanced integrated chipset produced by any company to date.  But we still are talking integrated graphics, so it still cannot keep up with a $50 desktop video card.

    AMD lists the RS880M as an 18 watt TDP part.  It appears to be clocked a bit more aggressively than the RS780M, hence the increase in overall TDP.  Given that this part is for the mainstream laptop market, the power constraints are not nearly as tight as the ultra-portables.  The increase in functionality that this part gives also makes up for the slightly increased TDP that we see.

    The RS880M is also the first integrated chipset from AMD which will support Stream and OpenCL functionality.  The integrated parts will actually be able to offload work from the CPU where it is most logical to do so.  Transcoding video is one of the killer apps for this product, as the amount of handheld devices that are in use that can show off different types of media is nearly limitless.  Being able to quickly transcode a HD video/movie to a portable device from a laptop, and have it be pretty damn quick for a dual core CPU, is something that will appeal to many mobile users with multiple playback devices.  Throughout the next few years we will see a greater adoption of OpenCL, and this will only add to the value of AMD’s latest integrated chipsets.

MediaShow Espresso is one of the first big consumer applications which features both Stream and Cuda functionality.

    The second big news is that AMD is producing their first 45 nm notebook chips.  “Caspian” is the name of the family of chips, and they are all based off of the Regor design that is used for the Athlon II X2.  On the desktop, the Athlon II X2 250 is a 65 watt part running at 3 GHz.  The top Caspian chip runs at 2.6 GHz and is rated at a relatively mild 35 watts TDP.  AMD has had quite a few months to work on the Caspian parts, and again there is a difference in the mix that goes on at the Fab to make these more power efficient parts.  This power efficiency does not mean that when taken out of the S1 socket, the chips can be clocked to the moon and back.  Quite the opposite in fact.  Because of the less leaky transistors being used, as dictated by the process and its mix, these chips would have a hard time clocking nearly as high as their desktop brethren.

    Still, this is a very significant upgrade from previous notebook chips from AMD.  The Athlon II X2 is based on the Phenom II architecture, except without the large and power hungry L3 cache.  Each core has a full 1 MB of L2 cache though, and that certainly helps performance.  These parts are significantly faster than the previous 65 nm generation of parts, and a lot more power efficient for the performance as well.  It also features the 128 bit wide floating point/MMX/SSE unit of the Phenom series.  AMD also has several lower end offerings which are still 45 nm, but feature ½ the L2 cache and limits the SSE unit to 64 bits wide.

    The Turion II Ultra M640 is the top mobile offering from AMD.  It is clocked at 2.6 GHz yet still retains the 35 watt TDP.  A total of 2 MB of L2 cache, no L3 cache, and all of the upgraded goodies that the Phenom II architecture brought to the table.  These new chips also support DDR-3 memory, which will also add to the overall battery life of these products.

Conclusion

    AMD’s new mobile offerings are very solid, and it looks like they are gaining some ground in the mobile space.  With many netbook users wishing for more functionality and performance, they are starting to look towards the more traditional laptops in the ultra-portable space.  I think AMD is doing their best to capitalize on this, and their overall platform is quite competitive to the competition in terms of performance and longevity.

In another gratuitous snatch from Pat's Blog, we see another MSI laptop, but this time a C-class based on the 2009 Mainstream Platform.

    The mainstream is getting a good performance and feature injection with the new Tigris platform.  The adoption of 45 nm processors at the top end will allow AMD to more adequately compete with Intel and their mobile parts.  While still not as fast as the Core 2 chips at similar speeds, it is close enough that most users will not notice.  The upgraded graphics portion could very well be the most attractive selling point for this product, and a sub $600 laptop with a fast Turion II Ultra and the Radeon HD 4200 will satisfy the majority of notebook users out there (as well as provide enough gaming performance to mollify those not wanting to spend more for a laptop with a discrete graphics card).

    Overall AMD has a much more polished set of platforms for OEMs to adopt, it is just unfortunate that they could not get it out sooner so they could have hit the all important back to school season.  A few designs based on these platforms have trickled out, but it will be some weeks before we see them en masse.  AMD is also attempting to give users a bit more for their money with free extras like AMD’s Fusion Media Explorer.  Another app they are offering dynamically shuts down unused system processes, which should help to improve battery life as fewer CPU cycles are devoted to those processes.  AMD is doing their best to be a more consumer-centric company, which frankly is the only way they can compete with Intel, which is heavily engineering oriented.

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