AMD brings its latest Radeon 7000 graphics to laptops

AMD announced today the Radeon HD 7900M, 7800M and 7700M families--along with more advanced switching technology--arrive just in time for laptops that will use Intel's 3rd Generation Core chip or AMD's Trinity processor.
Written by John Morris, Contributor

AMD announced today the mobile versions of its latest graphics processor. The new Radeon HD 7900M, 7800M and 7700M families--along with more advanced switching technology for systems that use both on-die and discrete graphics--arrive just in time for laptops that will use Intel's 3rd Generation Core chip (the first of which were announced yesterday) or AMD's upcoming Trinity processor. The result should be laptops with better 3D graphics performance and longer battery life.

These are not AMD's first Radeon HD 7000M series GPUs. But those earlier ones--the Radeon HD 7600M, 7500M, and 7400M--were actually based on the older design and built using foundry TSMC's 40nm process. By contrast this new family, known by the code-name London, is based on the Graphics Core Next architecture used in the latest Southern Islands desktop GPUs and manufactured on TSMC's most advanced 28nm recipe. The main difference is that the mobile variants run at lower frequencies and use less power.

The 7900M (Wimbledon) series looks similar to the chip used in the Radeon 7870 and 7850 desktop graphics processors. The first model, the 7970M, is already available in Dell's Alienware M17x, a 17-inch gaming laptop. The 7800M (Heathrow) and 7700M (Chelsea) have similar specs to the desktop GPU in the Radeon HD 7770 and 7750. Like the desktop versions, these London GPUs support DirectX 11, hardware-accelerated HD video playback, and the ability to drive up to six displays simultaneously. The 7900M and 7800M also support PCI Express 3.0.

Though these will undoubtedly deliver better performance, AMD is also emphasizing power efficiency. AMD's says its technology can power down portions of the GPU or reduce the entire GPU to a "virtually zero-watt state." In addition, these London GPUs have a new switching technology dubbed Enduro that catches them up with Nvidia's Optimus. AMD already offered switching, but it took a rudimentary approach: When the laptop was plugged in, the discrete GPU was enabled; when it was running on the battery, the discrete GPU was off. Computer makers could theoretically offer more nuanced implementations, but this was largely how it worked. Enduro, by contrast, automatically switches back and forth based on the application in use.

AMD's Enduro technology works with AMD's low-power E-Series and mainstream A-Series APUs (Application Processing Units) as well as Intel processors in laptops running Windows 7 or Linux. AMD says it is already shipping updated versions of the E-Series, known as Brazos 2.0, and the A-Series, code-named Trinity, to customers and they should be available by the end of this quarter. Intel will be releasing dual-core versions of its 3rd Generation Core (Ivy Bridge) chips around the same time. The combination of these new processors with London GPUs should make for very capable notebooks.

Separately AMD announced it has been working with Adobe to provide hardware acceleration for certain features in Adobe Creative Suite 6 on its APUs and Radeon graphics. Since the Adobe Mercury Graphics Engine uses OpenCL and OpenGL, industry-standards for GPU acceleration, those features should work on systems with either AMD or Nvidia GPUs. In fact, at the recent NAB 2012 show in Las Vegas, Adobe was demonstrating CS6 on workstations with Nvidia's Quadro graphics.

Nvidia released its first 28nm Kepler GPU, the GeForce GTX 680 for desktops, about one month ago. At the same time, Nvidia announced the GeForce 600M family for laptops. Some of these use the previous Fermi architecture and 40nm process, others are Fermi GPUs "shrunk" to 28nm, and some are true Kepler 28nm GPUs. The first laptop to offer a GeForce 600M was the Acer Aspire Timeline Ultra M3, though Nvidia says Asus, Dell, HP, Lenovo, LG, Samsung, Sony and Toshiba will also have notebooks with its latest discrete GPUs. The latest Alienware gaming laptops offer GeForce 600M GPUs, as well as the Radeon 7970M.

Nvidia has also posted a countdown clock for a mystery announcement that will take place this Saturday, April 28 at the Nvidia Gaming Festival in Shanghai, China. The rumor is that it will be a dual-GPU version of its Kepler GTX 680, perhaps branded the GTX 690. AMD is believed to be working on its own dual 28nm GPU monster, the Radeon HD 7990 (code-named New Zealand), which could show up at the Computex show in Taiwan in June.

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