AMD brings latest graphics to laptops

AMD continues to make waves with its graphics. At CES, the company announced the industry's first mobile GPUs that support DirectX 11, the ATI Mobility Radeon 5000 series.
Written by John Morris, Contributor

Unlike Intel, AMD didn't have much in the way of processor news at CES this year (though Lenovo's adoption of AMD chips in some ThinkPads was a big win for the company). But AMD continues to make waves with its graphics processing units (GPUs). At the show, the company announced the industry's first mobile GPUs that support DirectX 11, the ATI Mobility Radeon 5000 series.

The new mobile GPUs include the Radeon HD 5400, 5600, 5700 and 5800 series, and the top of the line includes the Radeon 5870, 5850 and 5830. Despite the similar naming scheme, these mobile variants don't correspond directly to their desktop counterparts. The 5800 series mobile GPUs are actually based on the desktop Radeon HD 5700s, while the mid-range and entry-level mobile parts can trace their design to the Redwood and Cedar desktop GPUs that should be released in the first quarter 2010, completing AMDs DX11 lineup. There is no mobile equivalent to the high-end Radeon HD 5870 and 5900 desktop GPUs. All of these are manufactured using an advanced 40nm process. (AMD also introduced a series of three Mobility Radeon 5100 series GPUs that are manufactured using the older 55nm process and support DX10.1.)

Based on AMD's latest technology, these DX11 mobile GPUs will certainly boost performance of gaming and mainstream laptops. (The hardware enthusiast site Anandtech has a thorough write-up with some thoughts on the performance.) They also support new features such as the ATI Eyefinity multi-display technology, which drives up to six monitors simultaneously (except for the Mobility Radeon 5400 series, which tops out at four). The new mobile GPUs should start popping up in laptops later this quarter, and in meetings AMD was showing several notebook using them including the HP Envy 15, and a couple of models from Acer.

Competitor Nvidia has a lot going on at the show, but the exact status of its DX11 GPUs remains a bit of a mystery. The company's first one, code-named the GeForce GF100 and based on its new Fermi architecture, has not shipped yet. Nvidia says it is in volume production now, but hasn't said exactly when we'll be able to buy one.

The importance of having DX11 as quickly as possible is open to debate. So far there are only three DX11 games available (Battleforge, DiRT 2 and some versions of STALKER: Call of Pripyat), and several more are due this year. Under Windows 7, there are other advantages to using a discrete GPU that supports DX11 such as fast video transcoding, and at least one analyst has predicted a rapid transition in 2010. DX10 wasn't widely adopted until last year, however, and it is likely to take some time for game developers to catch up.

Still AMD's broad support for DX11 is good for bragging rights. The Radeon 5000 series desktop GPUs have consistently received strong reviews, and it is impressive to see how quickly they've update virtually the entire desktop and laptop lines to the latest technology. AMD announced it has already shipped 2 million DX11 GPUs, and it probably could've shipped more if it weren't for issues with manufacturing yields that, the company says, will probably keep supplies tight through the first quarter.

Ultimately bragging rights will go the best performer, and soon we should find out just how all these new Radeon GPUs stack up to the GeForce GF100.

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