AMD and Intel: It takes a platform

Behind the scenes of AMD's Puma notebook platform

There's a story behind the story of AMD’s Puma notebook PC platform, unveiled today. It’s about behind-the-scenes collaboration. After hearing about Puma's development first hand, I believe that on both engineering and marketing levels, AMD has begun reshaping its approach to the PC market by taking advantage of the ability for its processor designers to collaborate with ATI chipset engineers.

AMD said that one of its main goals in acquiring ATI was to create more robust computer platforms. Puma confirms that the company is now heading down that path. AMD Fellow Maurice Steinman, one of the main engineers for Griffin, AMD’s next generation notebook processor, told me that the chip’s later stages of its development included a high level of collaboration between AMD processor designers and ATI chipset engineers. The higher level of collaboration was vital in that AMD will combine Griffin with the AMD RS780 chipset (designed by ATI) to create form Puma. AMD produced the first prototype Griffin processors about six weeks ago--Steinman had one on hand at our meeting and showed it rendering video--and will begin sampling them to PC makers soon. Notebooks based on the Puma platform will hit the market by mid-2008.

AMD had already been developing Griffin for some time when it acquired ATI. Regardless, AMD designers, such as Steinman were able to enlist ATI engineers’ assistance in tweaking Griffin to create closer ties between the processor and its supporting chipsets. As a result, Steinman said the Puma platform now promises to offer higher battery life, up to 5 hours, thanks finer-grained power management. Much of the gains still come from Griffin itself. The chip incorporates the ability to independently regulate each of its cores speed as well as to regulate its memory controller and HyperTransport links, which carry data to and from memory for example, to reduce energy consumption. Puma features such as PowerXPress will extend battery life by allowing a notebook equipped with discrete graphics to power off that component while running on batteries. As discrete graphics generally run faster and consume more power, switching to integrated graphics, which are part of the RS780 chipset, will cut power consumption, extending battery life. Griffin, for its part, appears to be slated to run at at least 2GHz and incorporate 1MB of Level 2 cache per core.

Some would argue that Puma is simply AMD catching up to Intel. That’s true on many levels. Puma follows a similar path to Intel’s Centrino notebook platform. Centrino platforms pair Intel’s notebook processor, the Core 2 Duo, with its own chipsets and wireless modules. Santa Rosa, the latest Centrino iteration couples the Core 2 Duo with a mobile 965 chipset and IntelPRO wirless module. AMD doesn’t currently have an overarching brand name for its mobile platform, right now. Nor does it make wireless modules. But AMD is clearly positioning Puma as its platform of choice for notebooks.

I believe that it will also offer PC makers bundle pricing for Puma, allowing them to purchase the platform for less than what a separate Griffin processor and RS780 chipset would cost. That's not to say PC companies will not be able to combine Griffin with chipsets from Nvidia, VIA or SiS. AMD won't stand in the way of those decisions. But it will make it worthwhile to use Puma. Like it or not, this is the new AMD. The chipmaker is doing the work it feels it needs to do to get back to profitability. That means using all of its resources to increasing its pull with both PC makers and end customers.