AMD announces Puma laptop platform, Mobile Radeon 3800 GPU

Located in the PC component capital of the world, Computex has become the tradeshow for chipsets, so it's no surprise AMD chose to announce its new mobile platform here in Taiwan today. (You can watch the press conference here.

AMD Puma 1

Located in the PC component capital of the world, Computex has become the tradeshow for chipsets, so it's no surprise AMD chose to announce its new mobile platform here in Taiwan today. (You can watch the press conference here.) Known by its code-name Puma, the platform itself doesn't have a brand name, but it consists of four parts:

  • AMD Turion X2 Ultra dual-core processors Mobile 7-series chipset: AMD M780G and AMD SB700 with Radeon HD 3200 integrated graphics
  • Mobile Radeon HD 3800 series GPUs
  • 802.11n controllers from Atheros, Broadcom, and Ralink

Designed for mainstream laptops for both consumers and small- and medium-size businesses (SMB), Puma includes more sophisticated power management features, better 3D graphics and HD video performance, and hybrid graphics--a feature AMD was the first to introduce with the 780 desktop chipset back in March (Nvidia's new nForce780a desktop chipset also support what it calls Hybrid SLI with GeForce 8800 series GPUs).

On a broader scale, AMD says Puma is a big step toward its vision of an APU that combine the CPU and GPU on a single piece of silicon, a project that would first come to full fruition with a processor code-named Shrike sometime in 2010. It would also validate AMD's acquisition of ATI.

"There's only two companies that can generate high-performance, leading-edge microprocessors in volume. And there are only two companies in the industry that can generate leading-edge GPUs in volume," AMD President and COO Dirk Meyer said. "And we happen to be the only company that can do both."

The Turion X2 Ultra (code-named Griffin) is based on the same K8 core as existing mobile processors and is manufactured using a 65nm process. The key change is the addition of three independent "power planes," which essentially means the system can separately control the power going to each of the two cores, as well as the North Bridge, the AMD M780G, including the memory controller (DDR2-800MHz) and HyperTransport 3 bus. There are at least three Turion X2 Ultras at launch: the 2.4GHz ZM-86 with 2MB L2 cache, the 2.2GHz ZM-82 with 1MB L2 cache, and the 2.1GHz ZM-80 with 1MB L2 cache.

The Radeon 3200 is AMD's first mobile IGP that supports DirectX10 graphics and the company says it delivers 3x the performance of laptops with Intel GMA X3100 graphics. Chris Cloran, VP of the notebook division, said even if Intel's upcoming Centrino 2 chipset doubles graphics performance, AMD would still have a comfortable lead. The Radeon 3200 also includes AMD's HD video decoding technology that reduces the CPU utilization and improves video quality. During the press conference, Microsoft demonstrated a "mainstream 15.4-inch laptop" with Puma and Windows Vista easily running three HD video streams simultaneously without any hiccups.

AMD Puma 2

Puma can also be used with AMD's discrete GPUs, and in addition to the previously announced HD 3400 and HD 3600 GPUs, the company introduced a new high-end mobile GPU, the Radeon HD 3800. Features of the 55nm GPU include:

  • DirectX10.1
  • PCI Express 2.0
  • 256-bit GDDR3 memory interface
  • HDMI, DVI and Display Port
  • Native support for up to four monitors

The Puma platform and Radeon HD 3000 series also bring hybrid graphics to laptops. That means you can use the IGP in tandem with a discrete GPU to boost performance. AMD's tests on a Puma reference notebook showed a 1.7x performance improvement on 3DMark06 with the addition of a Radeon 3450 GPU. The platform also supports CrossFireX, which means you can use multiple discrete GPUs, though the number of customers who actually choose this option is likely to be very small.

AMD Puma 3

What is likely to be very attractive to both OEMs and end-users, however, is the PowerExpress feature that lets you manually or automatically switch back and forth between discrete GPU and the IGP to conserve battery life when unplugged. AMD claims it adds 90 minutes to battery life. Fujitsu-Siemens will be the first to use PowerExpress in its AMILO Xa notebooks.

AMD also introduced one other option for getting "desktop-like" gaming on laptops without draining the battery while on the go: an external GPU-in-a-box with a PCI Express 2.0 connector. The ATI XGP uses the top-of-the-line Radeon 3800, supports CrossFireX and has HDMI output. Fujitsu will be offering it in tandem with its ultraportable AMILO Sa 3650.

The Puma platform is already shipping to OEMs, and AMD says it has more than 100 design wins from Acer, Asus, Clevo, Fujitsu, HP, MSI, NEC and Toshiba. These laptops should be available later this month. Meanwhile Intel's new mobile platform, Centrino 2, has been delayed a few weeks because of an issue with FCC certification of the 802.11n chipsets and what the company described as a relatively minor "miscorrelation" between the test environment and the actual silicon that Intel sent to its customers.

There has been a lot of grumbling on blogs and in the trade press that, graphics aside, the Puma platform won't close the overall performance gap with Santa Rosa or Centrino 2--which is very likely true even though we don't have benchmarks on real systems yet--nor does it push AMD down into ultraportable notebooks. And AMD is effectively sitting on the sidelines when it comes to even smaller systems, the netbooks that are a big theme at Computex this year and one of fastest-growing segments. But this misses the point. The goal of Puma is to bring a higher level of 3D graphics and HD video performance to affordable, mainstream and desktop replacement laptops with 13- to 17-inch displays. On that basis, AMD seems to have delivered.

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