Mobility Radeon HD 5000 series brings DX11 to laptops


— 11:01 PM on January 6, 2010

DirectX 11 graphics are coming soon to a notebook near you. In what must be some sort of record, AMD has gone from introducing the world's first DX11 desktop graphics card to rolling out netbook-bound derivatives in the span of about three and a half months. The new Mobility Radeon HD 5000 series includes three different graphics chips and a whole lineup of products serving the enthusiast, performance, and mainstream markets.

Rather than introduce each model and its specifications in prose, we'll let this handy chart (partly transcribed from AMD's slide deck) do the honors:

  Mobility Radeon HD 5800 series Mobility Radeon HD 5700 and 5600 series Mobility Radeon HD 5400 series
Transistors 1.04 billion 626 million 242 million
SPs 800 400 80
Max. core clock 700 MHz 650 MHz 750 MHz
Peak shader arithmetic 1.12 TFLOPS 572 GFLOPS 120 GFLOPS
Max. memory rate 4 Gbps (GDDR5) 3.2 Gbps (GDDR5) 3.2 Gbps (GDDR5)
Memory bus 128-bit 128-bit 64-bit

AMD has based the Mobility Radeon HD 5800 series on the same 40-nm Juniper silicon as the desktop Radeon HD 5700 series. The Mobility 5700 and 5600 series are both based on Redwood, while the 5400 series is based on Cedar. Those last two 40-nm GPUs haven't shown up on the desktop yet, but they will soon.

There's no trace of Cypress here, though. AMD told us it developed that chip specifically for desktop cards like the Radeon HD 5870, and it's basically too big and too hot for laptops.

This new naming scheme might sound like sacrilege to fans of the Mobility Radeon HD 4000 series, which matched model number series with the same GPUs as corresponding desktop products. (For instance, the RV770 GPU powered both the Mobility Radeon HD 4870 and the desktop Radeon HD 4870.) With the Mobility 5000 series, AMD is now playing the same branding game as Nvidia, whose mobile GPU nomenclature has gotten, shall we say, increasingly liberal.

On the performance side of things, the Mobility 5870 can purportedly outrun the old Mobility 4870 by about 10-30% at 1920x1200 in current games. That might seem a little counter-intuitive, since desktop Radeon HD 5770 and 4870 cards are pretty closely matched. However, AMD says none of its customers paired the Mobility 4870 with GDDR5 memory like the desktop product, with most opting instead for slower GDDR3. Also, presumably because it has a smaller, more power-efficient GPU, the Mobility 5870 lies closer to its desktop sibling in terms of clock rates. (For reference, the desktop Radeon HD 5770 runs at 850MHz with 4.8Gbps GDDR5.)

A Mobility Radeon HD 5800-series MXM module. Source: AMD.

Speaking of power efficiency, the new Mobility 5000 lineup features "improved engine and memory clock scaling and clock gating," which helps lower power consumption at idle. AMD allows real-time switching between integrated and discrete graphics processors, too, so users can disable their discrete Radeons in order to get longer battery life. The switching technology supports both Intel and AMD platforms.

Other perks include Eyefinity hexa-display capability, which you'll find on Mobility 5800-, 5700-, and 5600-series GPUs. Those who opt for Mobility 5400-series parts will be limited to quad-display setups, which still aren't shabby by any stretch of the term. All of these GPUs also support up to 1GB of GDDR5 RAM, although you may see some of the lower-end parts with smaller amounts of DDR3 or DDR2 RAM strapped to them. The choice will likely be up to laptop makers.

What about availability? AMD briefed us on the new mobile Radeons last month, a couple of weeks before TSMC's 40-nm yields finally stabilized, so we were curious if the yield problems would impact this line of products—and whether we could expect broad availability this quarter. AMD's Asif Rehman told us, "We have some supply constrains in Q1, and our demand is much higher than anticipated . . . though we anticipate that in Q2 and following quarters, we should be able to improve upon our supply situation and be able to fully support all the demand." That said, Rehman added that AMD had already shipped "many thousands" of Mobility Radeon HD 5800, 5700, 5600, and 5400 parts to its customers.

We had another question: does AMD plan to follow Nvidia's lead and offer mobile graphics drivers directly? Rehman answered, "This is something that we are currently working on. I cannot give you any definite timeline in this regard, but definitely this is something that is in the pipeline, and we will announce it when we have support available and we have the full qualification done on all the systems and the GPUs." Promising news, then, even if AMD is keeping a tight lid on the time frame.

Those who go shopping for a laptop later this year may see Mobility Radeon HD 5165 and 5145 graphics processors pop up in some spec sheets. No, those aren't typos—but they're not DirectX 11 mobile GPUs, either. Rather, the 5165 and 5145 are faster-clocked versions of 55-nm, DirectX 10.1 Mobility Radeon HD 4800 and 4600 GPUs, respectively. Although we surmised that these products were somehow tied to the 40-nm shortages, AMD said it created them before the yield issues cropped up. The firm's partners simply wanted faster 55-nm parts with better brand names. Go figure.

   
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